Never Rarely Sometimes Always: an intense abortion drama. Perhaps the most powerful film of the year
Never Rarely Sometimes Always: Eliza Hittman, the acclaimed director of It Felt Like Love (2013) e Beach Rats (2017), is known for its training films, intimate and intense. His latest work, the abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always, perhaps it is the one with the slowest rhythm, but its power and relevance are indisputable.
The film tells the story of seventeen-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan, in her first test) as she faces a personal crisis, that of an unexpected pregnancy which she cannot put an end to without the consent of her parents in the state of Pennsylvania, where she lives. In an impressive scene, the girl tries to induce an abortion but then realizes that she cannot do it alone, and asks for help from her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder). The two women embark on an eventful journey to New York, where even a minor is free to decide to have an abortion. The two face problems such as bureaucracy, toxic masculinity and the few means in their possession, but they demonstrate their strength, while a touching scene in which Autumn answers intimate questions about her sex life reveals the trauma still buried inside her.
Waiting for the digital release of the film, we met Hittman and Flanigan on Zoom to talk about the casting on Facebook, the difficulties of finding funding for a female film, and how women’s rights and access to abortion they are threatened in the midst of a pandemic.
Autumn must leave the state in which she lives to end her pregnancy. What inspired you to tell this particular story?
Eliza Hittman: “I started working on the film in 2012. I had read about Savita Halappanavar’s death in Ireland (the young woman who died of septicemia after being denied abortion under Irish law, Editor’s note). I was upset, and I started thinking about women in Ireland who are forced to move out of their country to access the termination of pregnancy. I read about their ferry trips to England, and I thought about their courage, their great perseverance and the many obstacles they face. I started writing down some notes, thinking about what an American version of that story might have been like. Then I put the project aside for a while, but it came out gradually. “
Why do you think it took so long to get the project started?
EH: “I always take risks when I choose to work on a project, and when I propose them to producers they always seem baffled, I read it in their faces! When it comes to abortion and films about women there is always prejudice, these are subjects that are discriminated against in the cinema “.
Sidney’s interpretation is calm, but shocking. Why did you choose her?
EH: “In 2012 I was working on another film (with partner Scott Cummings in Buffalo, New York, Editor’s note) and while we were casting we started adding a lot of people we had just met on Facebook, to be able to contact them later. In the following years, Sidney kept popping up in our feeds and we watched the videos he posted. He made music, and was very immature, and it seemed to us to see her grow from afar, a strange and voyeuristic way of looking in the private space of a teenager. But that’s also what I do with my films, so I think I made a connection between what I hoped to do with the film and what I saw in Sidney’s videos. Choosing her was a big risk because she had never acted before, but I thought it would bring great depth to this role. “
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
© Photography Focus Features / Kobal / Shutterstock
Sidney Flanigan: “I met Eliza and Scott when I was 14, and they contacted me when I was 20. They asked me to audition, and I thought ‘But I can’t act’! I didn’t think I could do it. But I saw myself on Skype with Eliza, and I read the script. I didn’t imagine the film was about abortion. I was surprised that I had never seen a film like this before, and I was interested in being part of it. I sent Eliza a video and then she made me go to New York to audition in person. He took me around the city and filmed me on the subway or eating sweets in a bakery. And I had the part. “
Autumn and Skylar in New York are approached and harassed by men. What did you want to communicate with those scenes?
EH: “Some male viewers complained about how men are painted in the film, it’s a ridiculous reaction. As if we had never had a say in the way women are painted in cinema, we are only at the beginning of this, after more than a hundred years of film. I was interested in showing how women have to juggle a hostile world. These are moments that for Autumn and Skylar are amplified, because they are young and discover these things for the first time “.
SF: “To show this state of mind, I tried to put myself in that mental condition, and I let everything out spontaneously. I didn’t think about what I was doing with my hands or body, but I really believe that if you are experiencing certain emotions, your body will behave accordingly. “
The film never talks about Autumn’s baby father. Was it important that the story centered on her and not on the men who made her suffer?
EH: “The intent of the story is to show how women are left alone to manage all these problems and that the burden of responsibility is never on the father. I wanted to emphasize just that. “
The strongest scene is the one that gives the film its title. We see that Autumn has to answer a questionnaire about her sex life proposed by a psychologist, and eventually collapses. What was it like shooting that scene?
EH: “The idea for that scene came to my mind after speaking with a social worker I had met to better understand all the stages of the procedure. If a woman, a minor, enters, what are the things to pay attention to? What signs to consider? The psychologist submitted a questionnaire to me and listening to it while repeating the possible answers, ‘never, rarely, sometimes, always’, did the title of the film come out. It was the moment when women are helped to reveal things about themselves, and I knew it would be an important scene in the film. Even if we still miss what happened to Autumn, we feel that he is hiding something, and at that moment he drops his guard and shows himself vulnerable. “
SF: “I remember it was the first scene we shot that day. Instead of dismantling the script point by point, I lowered all my defenses, and went fishing in my personal hell. “
Eliza Hittman and Sidney Flanigan at the premiere of Never Rarely Sometimes Always in New York, March 2020
© Photography Getty Images
Before the coronavirus emergency stopped the sector, Never Rarely Sometimes Always was previewed at Sundance and won the BerlinSilver Bear. Was it encouraging to win?
EH: “I had already competed in Sundance (in 2017, Editor’s note) with Beach Rats and I thought it was an extra opportunity in my career to participate again. I was very happy to have done it with this film. Sundance is an incredible showcase for films like mine: proudly independent films, with a point of view on the state of our world and our country. Then, in Berlin, it was even more exciting in some ways to see that the film had found so much favor in an international audience. An unexpected and very exciting thing. “
The global pandemic threatens women’s rights and access to abortion worldwide. Do you hope this film will remind you how important it is to safeguard these rights?
EH: “In the US, five states try to pass abortion as a non-essential practice. And unfortunately, in the midst of a global pandemic, we have politicians who want to limit access to healthcare. Our hope is that with the digitally released film we can get to women like Autumn. A great many, at this moment, are forced to move to have access to abortion. “
SF: “I hope the film can stimulate a debate and keep the attention on this topic high, especially by those who live in small cities, or those who are not aware of the obstacles that exist. I hope it is instructive for these people, and that it can help them have more empathy towards women who are in this situation. “
Never Rarely Sometimes Always will be distributed digitally (Sky Store, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and Apple TV)