‘HAPPENING’ SIXTIES ABORTION DRAMA AS TIMELY AS EVER
It’s not often that a film set nearly sixty years ago can be so timely and relevant to what’s going on today but that’s exactly the case with French film Happening.
From French filmmaker Audrey Diwan, Happening is an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s critically-acclaimed novel looking back at her experience with abortion when it was still illegal in France in the ‘60s.
Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2021 Venice Film Festival and nominated for a BAFTA, Happening tells the story of Anne, a bright young student with a promising future ahead of her in France in 1963. But when she becomes pregnant, she sees the opportunity to finish her studies and escape the constraints of her social background disappearing. With her final exams fast approaching and her belly growing, Anne resolves to act, even if she has to confront shame and pain, even if she must risk prison to do so.
In 1963, abortion was illegal in France. Anyone helping a woman to get an abortion (doctors, family, friends) would be subject to imprisonment. Sound familiar? What follows is a powerful, moving and brave drama about a smart and strong-willed woman who finds herself powerless and sees her bright future become dim.
“Audrey Diwan had the courage to show it in all its brutal reality: the knitting needles, the probe introduced into the uterus by an abortionist,” says novelist Annie Ernaux. “Only such disturbing images can make us aware of the horrors that were perpetrated on women’s bodies, and what a step backwards would mean.”
Indeed, filmmaker Audrey Diwan has powerful source material with Annie Ernaux’s novel.
“With Happening, I wanted to probe feelings, to focus on the intimate suspense that increases as the story goes on,” explains Diwan. “As the days go by, the horizon shrinks, and the body becomes a prison. But abortion is not our only subject. My protagonist Anne is a social renegade. She comes from a working-class family. She is the first to go on to university. The faculty ambience feels more bourgeois, with stricter codes and morals. Anne moves back and forth from one world to the other while keeping a secret that could dash all her hopes. At twenty, you are already searching for your place in the world. How do you do that when your own future is permanently at risk?”
As our modern-day U.S. Supreme Court and conservative politicians are trying to repeal Roe v. Wade to make abortion illegal again, Happening offers a sad glimpse at what life could possibly become for American women in 2022. It is possible that women’s modern rights can be erased and laws from decades ago could become normal again. You can’t help but think of that when watching Happening, which makes it all the more powerful. And kudos to young French-Romanian actress Anamaria Vartolomei for her breakthrough performance as Anne.
Happening is now playing at The Landmark in Los Angeles. It opens nationwide on May 13 and streams on-demand starting June 21.