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Happening (2021) | Film Review

by Emma Chen

Rating 5/5

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

photo courtesy of IMDb

If you are looking for a film that will twist your stomach and leave you out of breath for an hour and a half, Happening (2021) — or L'événement in French — is your perfect match.

Presented at the Glasgow Film Festival 2022, I watched this French film directed by Audrey Diwan at Belmont Filmhouse, and I think I can commit myself to saying that it is the most powerful and touching film I have watched this year.

Based on an autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux, it portrays the story of a young, smart French girl, Anne, who sees the life she dreams of slip away from her when she discovers she is pregnant. The film is set in 60s France, and as Anne decides that abortion — illegal at the time — is her best option, we are taken on a painful journey with her, looking for a solution to her problem. It is impossible to remain indifferent in front of Anne's agony, left alone to face a situation bigger than her, forced to undergo 'home' abortion attempts and two dangerous operations just to continue her studies and not lose her future.

In a Q&A session presented at the end of the film, the director Diwan explained how she wanted to capture the physical nature of the experience, leading the spectator to be extremely close to Anne, in an emotional and a physical sense. Indeed, the film is shot entirely in 4:3, a format that makes us experience Anne’s sense of oppression enduring throughout the film. Her anguish is emphasised by the slow pace of the narrative, which allows us to sneak into Anne's life step by step, and ultimately suffer with her. The subdivision of the story into chapters that correspond to Anne's weeks of pregnancy constitutes a reminder of her race against time and against everyone - from doctors to friends who leave her alone.

As autobiographical and extremely intimate as it is, nevertheless, Happening becomes a political manifesto for women's rights on their bodies. What happened to Anne occurs nowadays to women in many parts of the world where their right to decide over their bodies is denied.

Not by chance, the film was scheduled on International Women’s Day: an admonition to continue fighting for women's rights, as we cannot afford to go back and suffer like Anne did.

Finally, the real star is the beautiful, French-Romanian actress Anamaria Vartolomei, who embodies Anne and is able to transmit with great force both the psychological torments and the physical pain of the young girl. Her eyes, movements, and — often naked — body become the film's language and elevate it to a work of art. While some people could argue that a few sequences are triggering and unnecessary, I believe they perfectly fit the film's scope in showing the brutality and misery of the whole experience.


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