Happening movie review & film summary (2022)

Today, Audrey Diwan’s masterful “Happening” creates a similar bewilderment, but perhaps in reverse. It’s a period film set in 1960s France, but the predicaments its desperate protagonist goes through to access an illegal and unsafe abortion might very well be the new, frightening American future, with the Supreme Court voting to overturn abortion rights and the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

Through an exquisite artistic grip on the material (adapted from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel), Diwan’s subtle handling of the era very much propels the aforementioned disorienting and timeless feel of the movie. Through understated production design elements, lived-in and repeating costumes (realistic for characters from limited financial means), and cinematographer Laurent Tangy’s clear-eyed and buttery lens, the agelessness Diwan aims for instantly proves to be a smart stylistic choice for a subject and assertion relevant to any society, at any moment in time. That assertion goes like this: women’s reproductive rights are perennially fragile and patriarchy’s insistence to control females’ prospects outside of marriage and motherhood is the source of this fragility.

Dwelling in this reality is the silently despairing Anne, played by a sensational Anamaria Vartolomei in a quietly towering performance. She is a middle-class literature student who hopes for a long, healthy career in her field. But she is pregnant, alone and without choices. Working while mothering in 1963? Not an option. An abortion? In that French period, also impossible … unless of course she finds a fast and reliable in on a whispered-about illegal abortionist and hopes that the procedure is done by a medically sound someone and not a back-alley butcher.

Quickly, Anne finds that her situation means loneliness. There is no one she can talk to—in one of the many revealing scenes of “Happening,” a friend of hers hastily wraps up the conversation when the topic of abortion gets as much as mentioned, without even knowing that Anne is pregnant. The young girl’s hesitation rings true. The slightest hint of suspicion, and people could have been facing real consequences in that era, like losing their jobs, their academic affiliations and even facing jail time. Doctors and professors that surround Anne are similarly under the gun regardless of their varying degrees of sympathy for her. Out of fear, one caring physician refuses to help her despite being one of the more understanding ones. In order to preserve the integrity of your experience with the suspense Diwan carefully crafts, I won’t spell out here what an unsympathetic other does to her.

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Happening movie review & film summary (2022)
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