May 6th, 2022
STARRING: ANAMARIA VARTOLOMEI, KACEY MOTTET KLEIN, SANDRINE BONNAIRE,
DIRECTED BY: AUDREY DIWAN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
I often speak about wanting viewers to be up for the challenge of cinema. In order to broaden our horizons, our taste in movies, a person needs to take the leap. It’s scary in a gutteral way. When a narrative is about a certain subject matter, or the potential to witness something unsettling, something you would rather not focus on, or discover the harsh realities of a subject that a viewer could be blissfully naive to. The movie to take the leap, to challenge yourself with is Audrey Diwan’s award-winning film- Happening. Arriving at the most important time possible, this is the story of a teenage girl in the late 1950’s, going to university in the French countryside, struck with the unfortunate reality of becoming pregnant, during a time when abortions were deemed illegal. These are the great lengths a woman had to go through to receive appropriate medical care, living in a world hellbent on the suffering of women, and that painful reality is on display in the powerful and poignant Happening.
The main character is Anne Duchesne (Anamaria Vartolomei), a literature student at university, finishing her senior year, with hopes of becoming a published author. She’s the most brilliant of her class, which is evident in her observations of her teachers’ lectures, and how her friends Brigitte (Louise Orry-Diquero) and Helene (Luana Bajrami) look to her for help in their schooling. In the evenings the group would go to school parties, dance and entertain the possibilities of young love, but there’s not a promiscuity of these students. It’s just college kids enjoying life. Some of the other women in class are rude to her, jealousy in their eyes, while plenty of other men wish to meet her. Anne is a beacon of light, a person with a world full of potential in front of her, but the law of the land weighs her down, forcing her to seek the extreme options for an abortion.
Based on the novel by Annie Ernaux, the screenplay is co-written by Diwan and Marcia Romano, there’s an attention to detail in the writing that helps every aspect of the authenticity of Happening. The time is broken up in the trimesters of Anne’s pregnancy, 3-weeks, 6-weeks, 12-weeks scrolling across the screen, creating a build up in tension and time. That tension and authenticity goes hand and hand with the direction from Diwan, who never lets a single scene feel staged, moves the camera around Anne to give us the same tension, the same stress that she is feeling. With each moment in the pregnancy, with attempts to find a single doctor that would perform the procedure, or find a friend that would even discuss helping, the more we empathize with this maddening struggle. All of that display is narratively brilliant by Diwan. There’s nothing she hides and challenges us to see this struggle that Anne must go through.
On the narrative structure side, Diwan makes the brilliant choice to keep the presence of men minimal, often in passing, brief conversations, and hovering in the background. The man that has impregnated Anne is not revealed till more than midway through and even then he’s too afraid to take responsibility. This is a woman that is on an island. She’s offered zero options, no support from friends, family, medical professionals, or the man that was responsible for the pregnancy. With each new revelation, it’s obvious where Happening is headed, and still fascinating just how unfair this reality could be to someone.
At the moment there is not a more important and more challenging piece of cinema at the theaters than Happening. It goes into the list of films about abortion such as Never Rarely Sometimes Always, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and even Dirty Dancing. The performance alone from Anamaria Vartolomei is truly powerful, where she’s on the screen in every frame, where the cinematography of Laurent Tangy captures her face with a pristine gaze. And yes, the build up to her eventual struggle of deciding to get an abortion and the lengths this character must go to will be difficult for many to observe. I honestly don’t care. I implore you to challenge yourself. Happening should be required viewing for everyone.
HAPPENING IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY MAY 6TH, NATIONWIDE MAY 13TH, AND AVAILABLE ON DEMAND ON JUNE 21ST, 2022
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady