The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - HAPPENING | The Movie Waffler


happening review
In 1963 France, a student desperately seeks an end to her pregnancy.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Audrey Diwan

Starring: Anamaria Vartolomei, Luàna Bajrami, Kacey Mottet Klein, Sandrine Bonnaire, Anna Mouglalis, Fabrizio Rongione

happening poster

"You're pregnant!"

Is there any other combination of two words that provokes such a polarising reaction? For some women those are the two words they long to hear above all others. For others they spell the beginning of a nightmare. If your circumstances line up, having a child can be an enriching experience, but if pregnancy comes along at an inconvenient and unwanted time it can spell the end of a woman's ambitions.

happening review

Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), the heroine of director Audrey Diwan's adaptation of Annie Ernaux's autobiographical novel Happening, falls into the latter category. 23 years old and studying literature with dreams of becoming a teacher, maybe even a writer, Anne visits the doctor after missing her period and hears the last two words she wants to hear at this point in her life. Having a child will mean giving up college, shattering her ambitions. Plus, it's 1963. The Beatles are about to drop their first album. Europe is on the cusp of a social and sexual revolution. If ever there was a time you wouldn't want to be burdened with a rugrat, it's the swinging '60s.

As it's France in 1963, a legal abortion isn't an option. Illegal procedures can be obtained, but you need to know the right people. Anne turns to two doctors for help. One is compassionate but refuses to endanger himself by aiding her request, while the other secretly prescribes hormones that strengthen the embryo rather than destroy it. Her friends, who act as though they're sexually liberated, are dismayed at the thought of an abortion. With seemingly no other course of action, Anne heats up a knitting needle...

happening review

Happening shares a similar plotline to Buzz Kulik's 1973 comic drama To Find a Man, but there's nothing comic about Anne's situation. If things go wrong she could end up lumbered with an unwanted child, a spell in prison, or irreversible physical harm, perhaps even death. With a menace growing inside her stomach, Anne might be the heroine of a Cronenberg thriller. She's frequently pictured naked, but in a far from erotic manner. This is body as betrayer, as Anne examines herself in close-up, her belly slowly growing like an inflating bubble set to burst her dreams. Happening is as close as kitchen sink drama gets to body horror.

It's likely that the only viewers who will watch Happening are those of us of a pro-choice bent, but Diwan doesn't make it easy for us. The abortion process isn't sugar-coated, and it's portrayed as so gruelling that it may ironically dissuade some young women from undergoing such a procedure. Of course, this is a backstreet abortion in 1963, and the procedure has evolved considerably in the years since (perhaps the film should open with a disclaimer to this effect?). If you didn't already live in fear of getting pregnant, or getting someone else pregnant, you may well begin to after viewing Happening. This might be the worst date night movie ever; nobody is getting any action after a screening of this.

happening review

Present in almost every frame of the movie, Vartolomei is tasked with carrying the film and delivers what should be a star-making turn in French cinema, if not beyond. Vartolomei plays the part with a mixture of determination and resignation. Anne displays immense strength, left to deal with her predicament by herself with no approving shoulders to cry on. Throughout it all she attempts to remain upbeat. In one of the movie's lighter moments she beams as she watches her parents laugh at a radio drama. It's a scene that will likely resonate with many of today's young people, the idea of envying your parents, who seem to have figured out life and attained a level of contentment that seems impossibly out of reach.

 is on MUBI UK now.

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