REVIEW: ‘Happening’ is Happening With Abortions Every Single Day and Getting Worse

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Happening - But Why Tho

Happening (L’événement) is a French-language film directed by Audrey Diwan based on Annie Ernaux‘s autobiography of the same name. In the early 19060s, Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) is studying for her final exams with dreams of going to college when she becomes pregnant and has no intention of carrying it to term. The film follows her as she seeks out an abortion in a place and time where it is illegal and few people will consider helping her, including her closest friends.

Most people want to have sex. That sex, pregnancy, abortion, and even just human bodies themselves are made taboo does nothing except put women and their very lives in danger. Happening isn’t an exciting or interesting movie. It isn’t thrilling or intriguing. It is just the truth. Plain and simple. In all of its uncomfortable, upsetting, graphic reality. It’s very minimalist, with a 4:3 ratio, sparse dialogue, and little music even in the background for large swaths of the movie. It doesn’t want you hung up on frivolous details. It barely cares if you remember the names of the characters around Anne.

Happening just wants to show you exactly what people who are pregnant and want to terminate that pregnancy have endured, do endure, and under increasingly puritanical and oppressive regimes and the societies they control, will continue to endure, every single single day.

Most people want to have sex. It’s strictly forbidden in Anne’s school and most of the students there at least claim to follow that edict, if not outright believe in it. But even the true believers have to admit they fantasize about it. There’s an entire prolonged scene where one of Anne’s roommates masturbates and orgasms in front of them shortly after expounding on her own celibacy. There’s a graphic sex scene, creepy men who wish they’d have their own, and women who masquerade as virgins only to hide vast sexual desires and the sojourns they’ve taken into fulfilling them. Happening is rife with hypocrisy in a way that is certainly obvious and in and of itself perhaps a bit disinteresting in its predictability. But it’s the fact that the film shows this hypocrisy so vividly that certainly makes it stand out.

More interestingly though, is the hypocrisy the film exposes in our modernity. This film is filled with nudity. The women in it shower in communal shower stalls where they have zero qualms whatsoever about holding full discussions and arguments in front of one another with no shame or even any semblance of it for doing so.

Bodies themselves are hyper-sexualized just for existing that those who stood before one another naked and argued in the 60s might today very well find themselves appalled by the very idea. The women of this movie have no issue freely baring their bodies in front of one another, but dare to judge Anne for choosing how to carry her own body and have an abortion? It’s a constant throughout the film that perhaps most starkly points out the primacy, the cruelty, and the irony of anti-abortionism.

That is, aside from the graphic and detailed depiction of abortion itself. It’s haunting, it’s traumatic, and it’s undeniably one of the most powerful condemnations of anti-abortionism that could be captured on film. The barbarity of criminalizing abortions cannot be made more clear than by watching for yourself its inevitable end: suffering.

Most people want to have sex, though. And most people in Happening understand that shouldn’t mean a life condemned to parenthood or a death sentence for those who refuse. And quietly, it offers examples of how to be allies and accomplices to the justice of abortion access and support. From friends and strangers sharing their own stories to men who offer understanding and grace, to the people who risked their own safety, financials, and health to do the right thing and help Anne. It’s not a hopeful movie at all in the context of today’s regressive politics, but it does end positively and it does end instructively.

If anything negative has to be said about Happening, and it does, it is that the film is shot too dark. There are a number of scenes that are quite difficult to see and while there are a few moments where this darkness allows for some sharp contrast immediately with bright light, it’s already a movie with grain, a sepia quality, and a shaky camera. Anne’s deliberately bright attire doesn’t stand out especially in the darkness either. It’s just too dark in too many scene.

Happening is a movie that dispenses with the pleasantries of deep side characters or even growth for its lead role. It’s a vivid, unsettling depiction of abortion in a place and time, sordidly familiar right now, where its dialogue doesn’t even include the word abortion and barely includes the word pregnant. Vartolomei delivers an utterly powerful performance embued with everything from frustration to loneliness and confidence to despair. She plays her role so that you can’t tell whether she’s merely a child or a full adult and it doesn’t matter because her story and the way it’s delivered could be true of any white woman in nearly any place and time where abortion is restricted or illegal. It’s a remarkable performance in a film that is only such because its subject is so remarkable and clearly wishes, in its simplicity and minimalism, that it didn’t have to be so remarkable either.

Happening is playing now in select theaters.

  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10


It’s a remarkable performance in a film that is only remarkable because its subject is so remarkable and clearly wishes in its simplicity and minimalism that it didn’t have to be so remarkable either. But, remarkable nonetheless.