The Reel Review

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In 1963 France, where abortion is illegal, a bright young working-class student finds herself racing against the clock in search of an abortion, after an unplanned pregnancy threatens to derail her promising future, in this adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s 2000 autobiographical novel by the same name (L’evenement in French).

Anamaria Vartolomei in Happening

Charting the timeline of her pregnancy, which has occurred just prior to final exams, writer/director Audrey Diwan captures the grueling real-life urgency and dizzying sense of panic faced by women of that era. (The Happening is particularly timely, given the recent Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. after nearly 50 years of legal protection for abortion). No one will help her – doctors, teachers, friends, not even the young man with whom she became pregnant – all fearing ruined careers and even prison for themselves if they do. Increasingly desperate, she has only one option left to terminate the pregnancy: an unsafe, risky procedure with an unlicensed midwife.

Anamaria Vartolomei and Sandrine Bonnaire in Happening.

The third act, including a climactic scene filmed in a single take, is harrowing. It is important to educate women (and more particularly, men) of the terror of what a backroom abortion specifically entails. Often without even saying a word, Anamaria Vartolomei gives a devastating, emotive performance – the ordinary nature of her surroundings and everyday life making her real-life personal horror all the more unsettling.

REEL FACTS

• Happening won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the 78th Venice Film Festival in 2021.

• Abortion was legalized in France in 1975.

• 2022 Nobel Prize laureate Annie Ernaux says seeing Happening brought back the horror of her own abortion. “I wrote Happening to preserve the memory of the savagery inflicted on millions of girls and women. It was also to descend as far as I could into what I call, at one point, ‘the shock of the real’.”

 

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