Happening Review

This is a film that, honestly, I was not familiar with at all until the most recent BAFTA nominations were announced. I was pretty surprised when this film that I’d never heard of was nominated for Best Director. When I saw that it was playing in Cheltenham, I decided to give it a look to see what it was like. Given the events in America over the past few days, this film has also become a lot more relevant and necessary, and it is one of the hardest watches I’ve seen in a long time.

The film is set in France in the early 1960s and follows Anne, a literature student, who discovers that she is pregnant. Anne decides that she wants an abortion, but at this time in France abortion was illegal so she has to navigate all the hoops to try and obtain one, risking prison and potentially death in order to do so. This film is completely uncompromising in showing just how dangerous and risky getting an abortion was in France at this time, with the wrong actions or trust in the wrong person potentially causing so much harm to Anne. There’s also an interesting element over the attitudes towards women at the time. There is an element of, for lack of a better term, ‘slut-shaming’ of Anne throughout the film, as other students find out about her pregnancy, and it shows why Anne is so reluctant to get help from friends or others at the university, as it’s made clear that Anne would be ostracised for her actions, which adds to the psychological tole that the events of the film have on her. It also shows how the pressure of the pregnancy and trying to get an abortion impacts Anne, with a fear being present that Anne will no longer be able to have the life she wants if she is forced to carry the pregnancy to term and it is a very sympathetic portrayal of Anne throughout the film.

The technical elements also highlight the uncompromising nature of the film. The most interesting decision director Audrey Diwan makes in the film is to have Anne in frame for the entirety of the film. There are only one or two moments where Anne is not on screen, and even then it’s probably for a few seconds. Through keeping Anne on screen and in frame for the entirety of the film, we are able to get a better understanding of Anne’s character. It also helps to highlight the brilliance of Anamaria Vartolomei’s performance, which makes the decision of Anne to have an abortion feel completely believable and we understand why Anne makes every decision she does throughout the film. She also does a good job at making the audience feel the pain that Anne experiences when she attempts to perform an abortion herself which, when combined with the framing of the film, makes it a really powerful scene, although it’s a hard watch for those who have a tough time watching medical content in film. She also does a great job at showing the double standards towards women at the time and, given what’s happening in America, how there really hasn’t been much change in the way some people view women.

Overall, I found Happening to be a powerful, but deeply uncompromising watch. This works well alongside films like Never Rarely Sometimes Always at showing the painful reality of abortion, in terms of the difficulties in getting one, the attitudes that are designed to discourage women from getting them and the risk of prison or death in trying to get one. This is a very timely film, but it’s a really bad thing that the events depicted in the film are still of relevance to today.

My Rating: 5/5

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