Winner of the Golden Lion for Best Film at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival, Happening is a powerful and timely abortion drama, executed precisely by director Audrey Diwan.
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“Happening documents one woman’s efforts to arrange a termination and thereby continue with her studies. Adapted from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel, the film plays its private trauma as a harrowing thriller, and showcases a superb performance from Anamaria Vartolomei as Anne Duchesne, the agonised student in the spotlight. We meet her spineless boyfriend only briefly; the man is all but incidental. Anne has to go through this ordeal on her own.
It’s April 1963. Abortion is illegal and means a prison term if you’re lucky, death if you’re not. But Anne’s period is now five weeks late and she’s increasingly desperate: failing her studies, too scared to confide in her friends. A supposedly sympathetic doctor prescribes a drug he assures her will induce a miscarriage but is in fact designed to further strengthen the foetus. Director Audrey Diwan keeps the camera in close as Anne pinwheels between cafes and the classes; the family home and the dorm. She’d love a child at some point but she wants a life and career first. The picture’s tight framing is like a noose around her neck...
Time is running out; Anne is nearly three months along. Outside the halls of residence, it’s the time of rock’n’roll and the nouvelle vague. But Happening depicts a France still eerily coloured by Nazi occupation, where the trade in illegal abortion has become the new army in the shadows, arranged via code names and whispered meetings in the park... It’s a serious, gripping and finally honourable film.” — Xan Brooks, The Guardian