In college, back in the ’60s, a friend attending school on a complete scholarship got pregnant. She heard of a place she could go to in another state. Friends pooled available cash, someone had a car, and she was back two days later, white, gaunt and weak. It turned out she had had triplets. But the job was so botched she could never have children again.
There are similarities to my friend’s ordeal in “Happening.” A young co-ed finds herself in the same predicament. Like my friend, she tries different methods herself.
In this film, it all begins when Anne and her two college friends want to look good for a party. It’s not so much about make-up or even hair. They are working on making sure their bust lines look perky. It’s not that any of them have a crush on a particular guy. They just want to be desired.
Nothing big seems to happen, but a few weeks later Anne is in a doctor’s office. She denies she has a boyfriend or for that matter has ever had sex. Girls didn’t tell that secret. But he tells her she’s pregnant anyway.
The film, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux, takes place in 1963. For my friend, it was 1968. The difference is that Annie lived in what Americans thought of as Brigitte Bardot’s liberated France. We thought things were different there. But the punishment in France for an abortion was, until “Loi Veil,” the 1975 French law decriminalizing abortion, prison time for doctor, patient and anyone abetting them. Sounds like Texas and Oklahoma, 2022.
“Happening” shows what happened before abortions were allowed anywhere, and presciently shows what will happen in the future as women once again, through misguided legislation in the American south and elsewhere, lose control of their ability to chose whether child-bearing is right for them or not.
Anna Mouglalis (“My Little One”), with her man’s voice, is the clandestine kitchen abortionist. Her understated portrayal brings further realism and a sense of danger. She is expressionless, except when Anne lets out an involuntary yelp. She is not licensed to procure painkillers and cannot afford to be found out, so her patients must undergo the excruciating procedure in silence.
Audrey Diwan’s sensitive directing, the carefully honest, realistic script and Anamaria Vartolomei’s natural, raw dramatization create a courageous, important, seminal film on female sexuality and reproductive rights. Winner of the prestigious Gold Lion, the highest prize at the Venice Film Festival, “Happening” opened May 6, 2022.
Director: Audrey Diwan
Producers: Édouard Weil and Alice Girard
Screenplay: Audrey Diwan, Marcia Romano and Anne Berest; based on the novel, Happening, by Annie Ernaux
Cast: Anamaria VARTOLOMEI, Kacey MOTTET-KLEIN, Luàna BAJRAMI, Louise ORRY-DIQUERO, Louise CHEVILLOTTE, BORNEC Pio MARMAÏ, Sandrine BONNAIRE, Leonor OBERSON and Anna MOUGLALIS
Director of Photography: Laurent Tangy-AFC
Editing: Géraldine Mangenot
Release: May 6, 2022, in LA and NYC and wide-release May 13.
. . .
Join us on Facebook at