This shocking and poignant naturalistic French drama won the Golden Lion in Venice, and “L’evenement” or “Happening” is a film that thematically continues Mungiu’s cult “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”. The only important difference is that the unfortunate woman who desperately wants to have an abortion plans to do so in France in the early 1960s, and not in Ceausescu’s communist Romania. Just like the Romanian classic, “Happening” is a film that freezes blood in the veins and one has to wonder if something like that was really possible and not so long ago. The film was written and directed by Audrey Diwan based on the semi-autobiographical novel by French writer Annie Ernaux, and she decided to follow the path of classic naturalism.
“Happening” works almost like a docudrama, and the young and hitherto unknown French actress Anamaria Vartolomei is great in the leading role of literature student Anne. It is a film that perfectly depicts the time and place, the social circumstances of 1963, and it is one of the films in which the camera is on the main character almost all the time. Anne is a promising and intelligent student from the province who believes that studying will lead to better opportunities than her parents, the owners of the village inn, had in their lives. But her dreams will be interrupted by “a disease that only affects girls and turns them into housewives” as an unplanned pregnancy will be described by one of the characters from the film. When she realizes she is pregnant, Anne is completely terrified. She knows that the life she planned and aspired to is over and we can see how she feels on her face.
An unplanned pregnancy at the time was something not even mentioned, and those who decided to terminate the pregnancy were threatened with something much more serious than social condemnation. The women who decided to have an abortion, as well as those doctors who helped them, could have ended up in prison in France at the time and it is clear that Anne is in the same position as her Romanian counterpart in “4 months”. Anne is desperate and completely helpless, all the more so because she is practically not allowed to tell anyone what is happening to her, and time is running out. She was adamant that she did not want to give birth to a child conceived during a short-term relationship with a colleague who would not really “want to interfere” because the fact that Anne got pregnant is her problem. When she becomes pregnant, Anne will not only give up in college, but will become marginalized when word gets out, and at the cost of going to jail, she decided to face the shame and pain that awaits her and return her life to its original settings.
And what we’re going to see is really shocking and Diwan leaves little to the imagination. Everything that Anne will go through we will really see and it was “Happening” one of the most annoying, uncomfortable and creepy movies lately. What is most shocking is that it all seems completely real and that we are aware that it may be a feature film, but everything we will see is not fiction and many women from all over the world have had to go through, and probably still do. Just like Mungiu’s film, I have the impression that “Happening” is a visceral and explicit warning of what it could be and how it could happen if abortion were banned again. Anyone who wants to get rid of a child would probably do it anyway, but not in a hospital, but in some kind of shed, apartment or butcher shop with some trained quasi-doctors.
Although the film constantly follows Anne and we almost always have the feeling of the clock ticking that the hour is approaching when abortion will be impossible and Diwan is almost exclusively concentrating on what is happening to her, we get a great insight into how society views her situation. There’s not a lot of moralizing here, but just following what this girl is going through, it’s clear to us how hypocritical this society is and how Anne is mostly left to her own devices. We are aware of the position of a young woman like her who found herself in the same situation at the time and that there will be more people who will try to help her than those who would help her. Diwan masterfully portrayed this without going into unnecessary moralizing, but through details, some little things and “Happening” is a film that has picked up all the accolades for a reason. Rating 9/10.
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