Review: French Abortion Drama Happening Is Poignant, Urgent, Essential Cinema


Happening tells the story of Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), a talented young woman in France in 1963 who must choose whether or not to abort a pregnancy in order to complete her studies and escape the social constraints of a working-class family.Courtesy of TIFF


Realized by Audrey Diwan

Written by Marcia Romano and Audrey Diwan, based on the novel by Annie Ernaux

Featuring Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet Klein and Sandrine Bonnaire

Classification N / A; 100 minutes

Opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on May 13; also available on request

Critic’s Choice

On May 2, Politico leaked a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that showed it was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Roe’s landmark decision, handed down by the court in 1973, offered federal protection for women’s right to abortion. Anti-abortion activists and right-wing politicians have been trying to unseat Roe for decades — and it seems that time has come. The decision whether or not to allow abortion would be left to each state, and many governors are already preparing legislation that will bar all access if the decision is actually made. This will leave millions of women – mostly poor and racialized women – with little recourse in the event of an unwanted pregnancy.

It is under this heavy political umbrella that Event sort, a new French film set in the 1960s that delves into the anxiety, angst and horror of a pregnant teenager running out of options.

Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) is a gifted student, studying literature and hoping for a career in the field – all left behind by the fate of most women in her bourgeois town, who end up working in a factory. or a farm.

She excels until she finds out during a doctor’s visit that she is pregnant. It’s a tense moment, made worse by Anne’s immediate discovery that she suddenly has little choice. The law in France at the time was strict, so much so that when Anne mentioned not wanting to keep it, her doctor told her that not only could she end up in prison, but anyone who helped her get an abortion too. . He also warns consequences of illegally obtained abortions, bleeding in the alleys.

Increasingly isolated in her journey to find help, Anne discovers that she is entirely alone in her mission to have an abortion, unable to turn to classmates or even friends. As her close friend Brigitte (Louise Orry-Diquero) tells her, pregnancy would be “the end of the world”. Even the mention of abortion is verboten, as Brigitte warns Anne not to even mention it “even as a joke”.

Happening by Audrey Diwan is an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novel.Courtesy of TIFF

Time and time again, Anne is told that she has no choice, that a woman’s destiny is simply to accept what happens to her, without power or power. Watching the teenager slowly scratch and claw at those expectations in her calm, stoically determined manner is both inspiring and heartbreaking, knowing how the odds are stacked against her. Over the weeks, reinforced by on-screen text from writer/director Audrey Diwan, Anne’s fate becomes a tense thriller – with prison, death and deportation always looming.

Diwan’s film would be breathtaking and profound in any setting, but knowing what awaits America makes it all the more poignant, urgent and important. It’s also reminiscent of the 2020s Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always, Eliza Hittman’s famous film about a young woman making the dangerous and complicated journey to get an out-of-state abortion. This film was a tender and excruciating watch, a window into the helplessness that many young women face, and it’s a film that, tragically, has only become more timely since its release.

Event takes place in the sixties, but Diwan’s stark, unwavering directing, paired with spare costumes and the intimate lens of cinematographer Laurent Tangy, lends the film a sense of timelessness. The power of Event is in the terrifying knowledge that Anne’s struggles could happen to anyone, at any time.

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