HAPPENING (L’Événement)

(director/writer:Audrey Diwan; screenwriters: Marcia Romano, Annie Ernaux, novel by Marcia Romano; cinematographer: Laurent Tangy; editor: Géraldine Mangenot; music:Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine; cast: Anamaria Vartolomei (Anne Duchesne), Kacey Mottet Klein (Jean), Luàna Bajrami (Hélène), Louise Orry-Diquéro (Olivia), Louise Chevillotte (Brigitte), Pio Marmaï (Professor Borneck), Sandrine Bonnaire (Gabrielle Duchesne), Anna Mouglalis (Mme Rivière), Leonor Oberson (Claire), Fabrizio Rongione (Dr. Ravinsky), Julien Frison (Maxime), Alice de Lencquesaing (Laëtitia); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Alice Girard, Edouard Weil:  IFC Films; 2021-France-in French with English subtitles)

Though not an entertaining film, it’s a timely one.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The abortion drama set in 1963, is a painful reminder of when abortion was illegal in France (it was legalized in 1975) and a jail term awaits those caught getting one or abetting in the termination process. It’s directed with great care for her subject by French filmmaker Audrey Diwan (“Losing It”), in her sophomore film. Diwan and co-writer Marcia Romano adapted the screenplay from the autobiographical 2000 novel by Annie Ernaux.

It chronicles the working-class 22-year-old coed at Angoulême college, Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei, in an Oscar worthy performance), and her stressed-out attempt to arrange for an abortion through underground channels, and thereby continue with her literature studies to have a career in academia. After out partying one night she discovers she’s made pregnant by a student (Jules Frisson)
from another college, and is mortified. She must go through with the ordeal alone, as her spineless boyfriend offers no help and she’s too ashamed to tell her mom (Sandrine Bonnaire). She is not helped by the doctors she sees, who want no part of dealing with the legal system or refuse to help because they are pro-life.

The film is set before the sexual revolution took place in the late 1960s. The anti-abortion fervor reminds us of what America is going through now, as right-wing Republicans in states such as Texas have acted to make abortion illegal.

Though not an entertaining film, it’s a timely one. It strikes a chord by telling us how women are victimized by laws passed by privileged white politicians and must fight a lonely and painful battle to persevere. That alone should be a reason to draw at least a modest audience for this worthwhile film. 

A film still from L'Evenement / Happening.

It won the top prize at the 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival.