A maze through the eyes of women

NEW YORK — Even progressive abortion movies have typically focused on the morality of the decision. Eliza Hittman wanted to make a movie where the biggest hurdle isn’t deciding to have an abortion. It’s getting it.

“For me, it was about the barriers. I think a lot of movies focus on destigmatizing abortion,” Hittman says. “They show it as a need and a necessity of a woman’s life, but they don’t show how difficult it is for the majority of women in this country to access it.”

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Hittman’s third feature, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) who can’t get an abortion in her rural Pennsylvania town without her parents’ permission. . She and her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder), raise enough money to take a bus to New York to have an abortion. Their odyssey traverses not just Byzantine state-to-state restrictions that may surround abortion, but a largely tense landscape. The two young women, in tacit solidarity, journey through a world of male harassment, from light gestures to more heartbreaking encounters.

“I wanted to put the audience in the shoes of a young woman navigating a hostile environment, and all the ways that men, whether they know it or not, can cross a line,” Hittman said.

Hittman was speaking in an interview in Manhattan alongside Flanigan and Ryder in early March. The film was days away from opening in theaters, the culmination of an acclaimed festival that began with rave reviews from its premiere at Sundance (where Hittman’s direction was also honored for its neo-realism) and continued. was followed by the Silver Bear award in Berlin. Film festival.

By then, an ominous feeling had already settled over New York City because of the coronavirus. Everyone greeted with sharp elbows or a wave. Hittman, originally from New York, had a hard time imagining his city going into isolation. “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” opened in a few theaters over the weekend, but like other March movies (and April, May and June), its release was quickly canceled.

On Friday, Focus Features will debut “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” on demand. The speedy digital release brings one of spring’s best movies to entertainment-hungry homes, but also to a tough environment for a quiet, starless film that patiently builds its considerable power through an accumulation of finely observed detail.

“Word of mouth addiction is as critical today as it ever was,” producer Adele Romanski (“Moonlight”) said in a phone interview with fellow producer Sara Murphy. “It will just have to be on Zoom and not on a cocktail.”

“I hope we can continue to talk about the film and the importance of the issues in the film that are still relevant, especially today as people wonder if abortion is an essential medical procedure” , Murphy said.

During the pandemic, some Republican-led states considered abortion a “non-essential” procedure. On Monday, federal judges blocked those restrictions and set future arguments to be heard by videoconference.

Last year, states like Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi introduced bills banning most abortions. In some states, efforts are mounting to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade by presenting arguments on abortion before a Supreme Court populated by new conservative appointees. Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments over a Louisiana law that would require doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, a regulation that could severely limit access to abortion.

“It’s ironic that it’s called ‘privilege,'” Hittman says before alluding to the title of his film. “I see it as it relates to the larger conversation about abortion in this country where people, men, are trying to decide under what circumstances a woman should have access. I think that’s still the case. “

Hittman had long considered making a film about abortion, but grew emboldened after the election of Donald Trump and the experience of attending a women’s march at Sundance. She started by looking for the nearest pregnancy care center in a more restrictive state. She went to Pennsylvania. “I wanted to see it to believe it,” she says.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” drew comparisons to the famous Romanian film “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” about a woman seeking an illegal abortion. Hittman enjoys this film but takes issue with its depiction of a pregnant woman.

“She’s portrayed as being careless and naive and she’s shamed and judged,” Hittman says. “But it’s a masterpiece. It’s a masculine masterpiece.”

The perspective behind “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is clearly different, and it’s shared by its young protagonists. Both are starring in their first film, both hail from Buffalo, New York, and both have been hailed as groundbreaking performers. They laughed throughout their first private screening of the film, but Flanigan, 21, cried when she saw it at Sundance.

Ryder is 17 and realizes that if she lived in Pennsylvania, she might be in Autumn’s situation. After the screenings, she was approached by mothers who said, “After seeing this, I just want my daughter to know that I’m here for her and she can talk to me.”

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is rated PG-13, meaning teenage girls can watch it for themselves if they want. Hittman says the Motion Picture Association said if she removed just two swear words, she wouldn’t get an R rating.

“I think it’s always been my dream to make smart, clever films for young people,” says Hittman. “There are a lot of commercial films in the world that don’t really represent what it’s like to be a young person in the everyday world.”

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