Happening; Harrowing & Humanising

Director: Audrey Diwan Starring: Anamaria Vartolomei Runtime: 100 mins

Happening (L’événement) is a French film adapted from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical account of having an illegal abortion in the 1960s. Ernaux’s genuine experience gives this film the weight and depth required for such serious subject matter.

In Happening, we meet Anne Duschene (played by Anamaria Vartolomei), a young college student in 1963 France. At the time, abortion was illegal and dangerous to even discuss. Sex is treated as shameful and private; although she doesn’t seem to be particularly promiscuous, Anne has a bad reputation, she says at one point “It suits them to think I’m a slut”. The film treats her as a nuanced and complex protagonist. When she finds out she’s pregnant and is faced with isolation and rejection as a result, she isn’t sweet or demure in her reactions. She’s pissed and I really appreciated that portrayal.

The film explores a fresh angle on the question of abortion access by showing the difficult position it places medical staff in when they can’t legally help their patients. Anne tries to navigate her way through her situation legally, first encountering a doctor who’d like to help her but can’t, then a doctor who pretends he’s going to help her and then betrays her and finally by accessing a backstreet illegal abortion. It did a fantastic job of depicting the power medical staff hold in the situation while also showing how it can victimise others depending on their stance.

On the whole, Happening presents us with an equally harrowing and humanising portrayal of what happens when abortion is criminalised. The position it puts pregnant people in when they don’t want or can’t continue their pregnancy. The dilemma it creates for medical personnel. We’re given a striking image that’s burnt into my memory, anyone who’s seen the film will know the moment I’m talking about it. Happening isn’t afraid to make us face the need for safe and legal abortion head on. It deserved to win the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Happening is set for release in Ireland from April 1st.

Happening is reviewed as part of our coverage of this year’s Dublin International Film Festival – see more from us on this year’s DIFF HERE.

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