L’événement (Happening), 2021
Directed by Audrey Diwan
Starring Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet Klein, Luàna Bajrami, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire
French with English subtitles
Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas, Wednesday 30th March, 8:50pm
Alliance Française French Film Festival | Buy Tickets

We step into 1960s France and journey with Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) as she desperately seeks a safe abortion, albeit illegal, to allow her to continue her studies, as she poignantly expresses “I’d like a child one day, but not instead of a life”. This film adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s 2000 novel makes us question what has changed over the six decades since, in the realm of abortion law and societal stigma over female body agency. While the plot of Audrey Diwan’s Happening is somewhat simplistic, it is laden with deep fear, shame, injustice and disdain over sexuality, choice, survival and unambiguous gendered realities.

The female bond is central to Happening, with painting-like scenes of the young women draping across each other, sharing gum and adjusting bra straps, combined with Laurent Tangy’s handheld camerawork, it makes for intimate cinematography. In contrast, the patriarchal disdain from women towards women is also captured with much of the perspective being filmed from just behind Vartolomei, inviting the audience to truly feel as she feels; which is mostly alone and desolate of support, ironically, considering the universality of abortion. Tangy’s discerning choice to at times mute and blur Anne’s peripheral surrounds further underlines her private experience. While not much is said verbally, Vartolomei’s subtlety with facial expressions and eye contact provide a powerful characterisation of the internal world of an insular woman, whether that is her nature, or her conditioning. Similarly, the vast pauses from dialogue allows space to hear her breathing and feel into the minute bodily changes and evolution that haunt her.

The emotional landscape of Happening invokes a visceral response, I stifled my urge to scream aloud alongside her. Interestingly, male characters play a minor part and yet the potency of their contempt for Anne’s ‘situation’ remains. Being autobiographical, this is Anne’s story, and while she is surrounded by a communal life where daily details are shared, even showering, this is contrasted by her self-contained despair. The silence forced upon her in so many facets, but especially in the abortion procedure, importantly comments on the continued pressures and expectations enforced on women. To exemplify this aloneness, Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s unobtrusive soundtrack and single string plucks highlight the tension and urgency of time passing, revealing fewer options available to Anne and her future.

Although Happening is riddled with despair over what women have been and are forced to surrender to for ‘liberation’, Anne’s desire for survival trumps the shame. As the title alludes to, there is movement and trust in hope being attainable. There are still 24 countries that prohibit all forms and any reason for abortion (Centre for Reproductive Rights 2021). Happening externalises a woman’s pain and obvious lack of choice, leaving me with a radical sense that while this is a story of one woman, it speaks for millions of women, across time and place.

Abi Catchlove