Happening (2021) Review
This powerful deep dive into the impact of preventing abortion feels painfully relevant in 2022...
There are some films that deliver messages that you really wish wouldn’t get more relevant after their release - and yet here we are. Audrey Diwan’s Happening, which provides a raw, unapologetic exploration of an unwanted pregnancy and the physical, mental and societal impact that can have on women, is dishearteningly relevant in light of the Roe v. Wade news in the United States. Anyone willing to cast aside women’s rights and women’s choices for the wellbeing of an unborn, undeveloped foetus need only sit down and watch this powerful film with an open mind, and they’ll likely find their worldview changing.
Set in 1960s France, but with an upsettingly contemporary feel, Happening follows aspiring academic Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), who sees her world turned upside down when she falls pregnant after a forbidden night of intimacy during an evening away from her all-girls school. Finding out the news - which has the potential to not only crush her dreams, but elicit shame from her friends, family and wider community - Anne does everything in her power to source an abortion, which proves tricky to say the least during an era in which even the mention of such a thing could deliver strong consequences. In pursuit of her quest, she is forced to try an at-home abortion and visits an off-the-books doctor, all at her own expense, in the hopes of bringing her nightmare to a close in secrecy.
In the current climate, Happening feels like an education as much as it is a remarkable film in its own right
Vartolomei is utterly phenomenal in the leading role, demonstrating the vulnerability and shame that Anne is experiencing from her supposedly sinful actions with impressive force. Yet underneath the sense of struggle, the Romanian brings a real steel and resilience to the role - this is a woman who refuses to have her life brought to a halt because of one night of passion, and her spirit is genuinely inspiring. Vartolomei picked up plaudits at the César Awards and Berlin International Film Festival for her portrayal - but, honestly, she deserved a whole lot more for taking such a challenging job and executing it with both confidence and compassion.
The other star of the show, though, is undoubtedly Audrey Diwan - who was more deservedly recognised during awards season, earning a BAFTA nomination earlier this year. It feels strange to say that a film with this subject matter, one with so many disturbing scenes, is beautiful, but the filmmaking on display is masterful. The cinematography from DP Laurent Tangy is gorgeously hazy and dreamlike, but the narrative sequences put together by Diwan snap you back to reality with a thud. One particular moment, centred around a bloody couple of minutes in a toilet stall, hits home with particular force.
This isn’t an easy watch, by any means. But, then again, this isn’t an easy topic - and, as painful as it is to sit through at times, the scenario Anne is put through in this movie was faced by a real woman (the film is an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s biography L'Événement), and is one that is likely to be faced by countless more in the west thanks to the ruling of nine spineless, unelected politicians pretending to be impartial lawmakers. In the current climate, Happening feels like an education as much as it is a remarkable film in its own right. Here’s hoping more people use it to learn.