• Golden Globe Awards

Happening (France)

France, 1963. 20-year-old promising literary student Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei, in a compellingly intense performance), unexpectedly gets pregnant. What can she do? Having a child will destroy her life, her professional ambitions, her dream of becoming a teacher. Her options are limited. The clock is ticking. Her belly is growing.
She finally makes the only decision she thinks can solve her predicament. In the sixties, abortion is still illegal. But she decides to terminate the pregnancy, knowing that she will risk prison, or, worse, death from the procedure. But even as she embarks on this grim and lonely endeavor, she is far from imagining the traumatic nightmare she’ll have to endure.
Adapted from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical book published in 2000, Happening is Audrey Diwan’s second feature and won the Golden Lion at the last Venice Film Festival. Not only a heartrending account of a clandestine abortion, it is also a gripping portrait of a young woman who refuses to be victimized by the social codes of her time and place but is determined to stay in control of her destiny whatever the cost may be.
Finding the right actress was obviously key for such a demanding part. “From the first auditions, Anamaria demonstrated she had what I wanted,” Dirwan comments. “The necessary physicality fueled with mystery and strength, the diaphanous skin, the introspective gaze – open to the world and attractive but also difficult to decipher. She used her intelligence to build the armor needed by the character and act in a minimalist way.”
To help Vartolomei shape a very complex character, Diwan gave her a list of specific movies as references. “I watched the Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta, Laszlo Nemes Son of Saul and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan,” recalls Vartolomei, “Audrey described Anne as a soldier who goes to war and keeps marching on, looking ahead, resolute above all in her obstinacy and unwavering willpower. I kept that image in my head all through the filming.”
Before becoming a director in 2019, French Lebanese Diwan had already been a journalist, critic, novelist, publisher, and screenwriter. Eventually, she felt the written word was not enough anymore to express herself artistically. “I took my time getting ready to go behind the camera, and had first to find my own cinematographic grammar, ” she admits. “I needed to be ready to be able to do it in all honesty, liberating myself by taking risks.” Amongst her many inspirations, she looked up to Agnes Varda, Jane Campion, Ken Loach, Hirokazu Koreeda.
It was paramount for her that Happening avoided being a movie with too obvious a message. “I hate moralizing films: I love cinema that asks questions. I hope this film will generate debates and discussions. I wanted to make the story relevant to today and transcend the period in which it takes place. It is our past, but it is also the present, and unfortunately still so timely for many countries, as we have seen recently in Poland and even in Texas, where women have been denied the right to end unwanted pregnancies.”
Abortion was finally legalized in France in 1975.