Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) is a literature student in 1960s France. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she tries to deal with both the changes in her body and her own decision to end the pregnancy – despite the fact that this is illegal and will result in jail time for her, or anyone who helps her…
Pregnancy movies generally tend to examine how they have the potential to turn women’s lives upside down. However, more recent efforts have come to the fore to make women decide to end their pregnancies, such as Thomas Ryan’s delicate “Twice Shy,” which centers on the dynamics of a father and daughter during a unplanned pregnancy for a young woman. “Happening”, however, takes a much more direct approach and presents our central character and his situation in stark terms.
She is adamant that she does not want this pregnancy to continue, and must not only navigate the social aspect of it, but also escape the legal restrictions imposed. on abortion in France in the 1960s. Director Audrey Diwan places the camera uncomfortably close to Anamaria Vartolomei. He is always over her shoulder or chasing her down brightly lit hallways and the like, closing in on her at every available opportunity. Additionally, the female form is presented in equally austere terms, without any sort of male lens attached.
It’s bold, unwavering in the way Anamaria Vartolomei’s character handles the situation and her growing desperation as the days and weeks pass. What ‘Happening’ doesn’t do, however, is apply moral judgment to any part of it. In fact, it’s because he makes no accusation that he’s able to be so candid about it. The risks that the character goes through are essentially related to the legal obstacles to safe and legal access. Moreover, the conclusion itself is a powerful rebuke to these barriers. Director Audrey Diwan and co-screenwriters Marcia Romano and Anne Berest say it very clearly and leave no room for doubt.
Anna Vartolomei has to carry this film on her back, and it’s to her credit that she’s able to navigate the various aspects without ever losing sight of the story. She’s both a teenager and a woman, straddling the awkward phases in between, and all the while trying to keep the emotional burden of her situation under wraps. It’s no surprise that she’s won awards on the festival circuit and is likely to go on to a promising career.
“Happening” is an uncompromising examination of an unplanned pregnancy, bolstered by powerful writing and unique performances, resulting in an empowering experience.