Celebrated French writer and feminist Annie Earnaux’s oeuvre was a running fictionalized autobiography of her life and in turn analysis of France’s evolving sociopolitical landscapes. Happening captured a watershed and perhaps the most intensely personal chapter in her life – viz. her decision to have an illegal abortion as a young college student in 1960s France, despite crushing medical, legal and social obstacles, in order to be able to continue with her studies – which paved way for her to become what she became. French-Lebanese filmmaker Audrey Diwan’s adaptation of this autofiction text therefore was, understandably, intimate, poignant, stark and harrowing in equal measures. And she made it especially claustrophobic through striking stylistic choices – a near-documentary flavour despite the seething emotional undercurrents (reminiscent of Mungiu’s masterful 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; incidentally, both films had unsettling sequences on underground abortion); counterpointing of vibrant lighting with debilitating psychological turmoil; and, most notably, placing the camera uncomfortably close to her heroine almost throughout the film’s length, along the lines of the Dardennes’ The Son and Nemes’ Son of Saul. The tightly contained narrative followed Anne (played with stunning restraint by Anamaria Vartolomei) over 9 nightmarish weeks – a brilliant college student with a promising life ahead – as she realizes that she’s pregnant, her futile pleas to doctors, getting distanced from her buddies when they realize her radical intent, her inability to share her predicament with her working-class mother (Sandrine Bonnaire), and the ordeal that she must battle through alone in order to get an abortion. Excepting a sequence towards the end that felt gratuitous and therefore antithetical to the film’s austere palette, this was both a viscerally arresting and politically prescient film.
Director: Audrey Diwan
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Film a Clef