June 23, 2022

SCREEN | Seeking an Abortion in 1960s France – 'Happening'

"I'd like a child one day but not instead of a life."
Anamaria Vartolomei Audrey Diwan | Happening (L'événement) | VIFF Centre
IFC Films / Wild Bunch
Sophomore filmmaker Audrey Diwan adapts French author Annie Ernaux's semi-autobiographical novel/memoir about a bright young literature student facing an unwanted pregnancy while desperately seeking out a dangerous abortion when it was still illegal in a post-war 1963 France. Happening (aka L'Événement) is an unfortunately timely expression of just how essential family planning and a woman's ability to choose whether or not to give birth is to the basic fundamental human rights necessary to a functional society.

Starring French-Romanian actress Anamaria Vartolomei as Anne, her raw, viscerally captivating yet understated performance is a clear breakout role. She says so much with her face and subtle gestures that provide so much power to her character's very precarious but common predicament about controlling the direction of her future and life under the deadline of a daunting ticking clock.

Adapted by Diwan, Marcia Romano, and Anne Berest, their script crafts a riveting personal journey told rather economically through a basic yet detailed structure highlighting character development mostly through small actions and anexieties. How the sexual politics of the time dictated a women's role only further recalls the barbaric cruelty of the public's treatment of women—even today.

It's a masterfully claustrophobic depiction of all too very real events made to both be as universal as possible while keying in specific details and graphic imagery to show us where we were as a society and what might come as a result. Happening is an utterly harrowing cautionary tale of desperation about a young woman trying to save her own life by risking it and needlessly endangering herself because of her familiar circumstances.

Happening screened at the VIFF Centre and is available to stream through video on demand.


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