In Dan Sallitt’s new film, focus is put on personal, rather than systemic, emotional responsibility. Fourteen is about an unbalanced friendship, one that might look familiar to most urbane twenty-somethings: Jo ( Norma Kuhling) is the ‘self-destructive one,’ while Mara (Tallie Medel) is the ‘one who picks up the pieces.’ A conversation early on demonstrates a deep mutual history, covering territory that these women have cleary trodden before. (“So my eccentricities and anxieties are not a part of who I am?” Jo tells Mara.) Sallitt’s film accrues its power by upending viewer expectations, frequently deemphasizing — even slyly disguising — its various temporal ellipses. This push-and-pull between the predictable and the unexpected is the film’s defining tension.
Sallitt generously provides enough ambiguity that viewers aren’t forced to come to any particular conclusion about these women, and Medel’s understated depth plays beautifully against Kuhling’s more bombastic performance. As the film (and the lives of the two protagonists) progress, Jo’s increasingly limited presence balances our identification with the initially stoic and (ostensibly) over-critical Mara. Sallitt’s development of the characters through time might often recall the zeitgeist-y millennialhood of Lena Dunham’s Girls, whose characters’ minor victories and defeats led them towards alternative life paths. But Fourteen goes even further, demonstrating that, yes: we can and will be memes of ourselves when we think we’re being bold and original. If that in itself isn’t enough of an emotional reckoning for audiences of a certain age, then Fourteen’s ending will be.
Published as part of Berlin Film Festival 2019 | Dispatch 1.