Award-winning novelist Annie Ernaux is renowned for writing autobiographical novels that deconstruct French post-war society. Happening (L’événement) is one such work, and has finally been adapted for the screen by Marcia Romano and Audrey Diwan.
Anne Duchesne is a small-town girl studying for her final Baccalaureate exams in order to gain entry to university. She is extremely smart and ambitious. But then she finds out that she is pregnant, and her dreams start to slip away. Determined not to carry the pregnancy to term, she has to navigate conservative, Catholic, 1960s France where procuring a termination would see her jailed. She discretely asks friends, who shut the conversation down out of fear for themselves. Eventually she tries to do it herself, before she is surreptitiously slipped the name of woman who “could help her”.
Happening is a confronting, honest, and heart-wrenching reminder of what happens when abortion is illegal. And although this is firmly set in a particular time, the attitudes displayed-by friends, the medical profession, and fathers of unwanted pregnancies-are still evident in contemporary attitudes.
Anamaria Vartolomei delivers an uncompromising and brave performance as Anne. Dirwan’s direction stays firmly with her protagonist, allowing us to travel not just the physical journey with her, but the emotional one too. Supporting cast all put in solid work, especially the great Sandrine Bonnaire as Anne’s mother. With the focus firmly on Anne’s struggles, the screenplay leaves the characters all a little under-cooked. Anne herself doesn’t really stand out as a person, in the sense that she could be anybody. And although she was, and still is, “any woman”, the audience needs more material with which to develop emotional buy-in.
Happening is not for the weak-of-disposition. None of the ugliness of illegal abortions is left-out. Nothing is air-brushed. And this is one of the strengths of the work.
Diwan has made a moving film, with a powerful message.