Everyone has that friend who has been there since what feels like the beginning. However, if forced to admit it, if you’d met later in life you probably wouldn’t stick. There is an aching specificity to your childhood friends, who you stand by through thick and thin. This is at the heart of Dan Sallitt’s Berlinale Forum feature, Fourteen. The film charts Mara (Tallie Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) who are childhood friends inevitably drifting apart – although until they do, we are trapped tracking the latter’s unending cycle of dependence on the former. Jo has a breakdown and summons Mara, who faithfully appears at her beck and call only to be unwanted. The pattern continues. The movie attempts to find a middle ground between evoking repetitiveness without feeling repetitive. It lands a little more than off-center.
Time works like a slinky in this picture. There are extended stretches of stillness, then sudden jumps that delineate years of these women’s lives. Despite the gaps in time, there is little delineation in their demeanours, which leads to a little confusion and a lot of disbelief – especially when it comes to Mara. In the last chapter of her life that we witness, early motherhood, she tells her daughter a bedtime story that sounds nothing more than a teenager gossiping about a story at school. Until then, she has been the stoic friend knowing precisely how much to give up.
Sallitt’s succeeds in capturing the modern means of communication. It is common to see filmmakers shy away from a heavy use of mobile phones. They are a tricky device to present cinematically, yet Sallitt manages to use them not only as a very key plot device but as a way to accentuate the connected-but-aloneness that persists today. Unfortunately, the unique snapshot of how we communicate today disintegrates when the feature jumps ahead in its timeline. In time, we learn that it’s typical of the movie to be delicate with its details whilst at the same time glazing over larger holes.
Ultimately, Fourteen is a relatable film. There is veracity in the friendship which lives in the picture despite its rough edges. It will tug at the hearts of audiences susceptible to placing themselves in the shoes of either Mara or Jo.
Fourteen does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.