Friday Film Review | "Happening"
“Happening” premiered at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival where it won the Golden Lion for best film. It came to Sundance 2022 in the Spotlight category and was one of three films in the lineup which dealt with some aspect of abortion.
Director Audrey Diwan had considered writing a book about her own abortion experience when a friend pointed out legendary author and feminist Annie Ernaux’s memoir "Happening" already addressed that issue. A reader of all Ernaux’s books, Diwan was shocked to have never heard of it before.
Upon meeting the author, she asked why this particular book remained in the shadows rather than the spotlight. Ernaux explained that even though her books commonly address social issues and struggles faced by women of her day, journalists were not eager to discuss or willing to give a book about abortion broad publicity. Shaming the subject into silence was and is very effective.
In her very first feature role, lead actress Anamaria Vartolomei won the Lumières Award for Best Actress and the César Award for Most Promising Young Actress. She plays Anne, an ambitious and promising college student who finds herself pregnant after her very first sexual experience. She is told she has no options and her chance at a brighter future will forever disappear.
After reading the book and script, Vartolomei said she channeled her anger about the situation to portray young Anne not as a helpless victim but as a soldier going to battle for her freedom.
It may seem odd to describe the story as a suspenseful thriller but on many levels it is. The process of seeking and obtaining an illegal abortion is fraught with risk, danger, punishment and even death. Once the pregnancy is confirmed, the film literally counts down in weeks as Anne’s fear and desperation grow. Every tick of the clock is painful and powerful to watch.
“Happening” is in French with English subtitles. It is rated R and runs 1 hour and 40 deeply suspenseful minutes. It was released in theaters across the US in May and is currently available to stream on Prime.