Event (18, 100 minutes)
does not associate the abortion wars with this country, which for years turned a blind eye exporting pregnant women to England, or the American Midwest, parts of which are currently trying to reverse years of progress and Roe vs Wade .
But France, certainly, the fatherland of the Simones—de Beauvoir and Veil—has long been enlightened in this respect. Well, not exactly.
It was not until 1975, seven years after the United Kingdom and nearly 50 years after its authorization in Sweden, that the French state finally decided to legalize abortion.
Until then, and outside of Paris in particular, the country remained deeply conservative and Catholic in parts, and unmarried girls who found themselves in the family faced the same hard choices as in Ireland. Some were desperate enough to have abortions on the street, which could and often did lead to horrific consequences.
Audrey Diwan’s film, based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux, forcefully recreates an era and a dilemma that must seem hopelessly obscure to young French women today.
The year is 1963 and working-class student Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) has come to the provincial town of Angoulême to study literature. She’s bright, ambitious, and determined to avoid her parents’ fate, after watching them bicker and pinch each other while running their crummy cafe. His life will be different, thinks Anne: then the unthinkable happens.
In a time and place where extramarital sex was severely frowned upon, male and female ignorance of basic biology is mind-boggling. The boys seem to know a little more than the girls and Anne, curious by nature, lets herself be led into harmless experiments.
Unfortunately, there is a consequence and when Anne finds out she is pregnant, everyone she turns to tells her in no uncertain terms that it is her problem.
In a library, she peeks at a textbook showing a cross-section of the pregnant woman’s body, the uterus magically expanding as the fetus grows. Anne stares from the book to her belly in terror: the pregnancy has arrived on the eve of her exams and could now jeopardize everything she has worked for, but she quickly discovers that this is a scenario she will have to face it alone.
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The boy doesn’t want to know and, ultimately, neither does the medical profession. “I’m pregnant,” she told a doctor she consulted. ” I want to continue my studies. It is essential for me. He tricks her into prescribing pills that he says will “bring your period back”, but it’s actually medicine to boost the health of the embryo.
In the 1960s, the idea of a girl caring about her career and her studies still seemed absurd to some. But Anne is desperate because she knows that having a child in her situation will truncate and circumscribe her life. So she goes back to see the doctor who told her she was pregnant and begs him to help her.
“You can’t ask me to do this,” he told her. “Anyone who helps can end up in prison. You also. And only if you are spared the worst. Every month, a girl tries her luck and dies in excruciating pain. You don’t want to be that girl.
He’s not kidding: in France, clandestine abortionists were rather poetically referred to as angel-makers, and the pain and suffering they often inflicted can only be imagined. But eventually, in her desperation, Anne will look for one of these angel maker and have to face the consequences.
Diwan handles all of this with great sensitivity and solid honesty. The provincial France of the 1960s is recreated well, but not so well that the fluff of the period becomes a distraction from the central dilemma. Vartolomei is remarkable as Anna, a brave and resourceful young woman whose self-confidence is shattered by what she can only see as a biological cataclysm.
In all these exchanges, the word abortion is not mentioned once. Nor the novel idea that a woman in Anne’s predicament should have the final say on what happens to her body next.
Rating: Four stars
The unbearable weight of a massive talent (15A, 107mins)
The word meta, which I hate, is hard to avoid in reference to this frothy comedy inspired by the life, work and legend of Nicolas Cage.
the Air conditioning star, always good sport, plays himself in Tom Gormican’s film, or rather a washed-up, histrionic version of himself, who is about to quit acting for good when he receives a strange invitation. Self-confessed superfan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) invited him to a party at his Mallorca mansion.
With a $1 million fee at stake, Cage leaves, but Javi is tied to a gangster family and trouble is brewing. It goes without saying that it’s a profoundly silly film, but it’s also a rather winning film: Cage misses no opportunity to poke fun at his character and makes several references to his widely recognized superpower – the new shamanic game.
Pascal is a willing accomplice, as is Sharon Horgan, who sarcastically plays his ex-wife, but this is Cage’s movie and my favorite moment comes when he’s watching his old movie Keep Tess and jumps in fear at one of his sudden outbursts.
Rating: three stars
Playground (No Cert, IFI, 72mins)
We like to think of our children swaddled in the bubble wrap of parental care, but the playground can be a jungle, a hotbed of wild resentment.
This theme is powerfully explored in Laura Wandel’s Belgian drama Playground, which stars Maya Vanderbeque as Nora, a seven-year-old girl who doesn’t like her school. Nora is shy and has trouble fitting in. Then she sees her older brother Abel (Günter Duret) being bullied in the playground.
A gang led by a boy who clearly has psychological problems went after Abel, beat him, threw him in trash cans. When Nora decides to intervene, she makes things worse for both of them, but her sense of morality is so strong she can’t help it.
Performed with incredible naturalism by its young actors, Wandel’s film is shot from the point of view of a young child, which makes even the best-meaning adults seem irrelevant to the primordial struggle that takes place during the break of the noon.
Little children playing always look cute from afar, but up close you can see the dark rivalries, the Darwinian battles for supremacy.
Rating: Four stars