Happening is an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novel, which reflects on the experience of a woman seeking out an abortion in 1960s France. With 16 nominations and 13 wins, Happening has proven itself to be deserving of attention. While still a student, Anne Duchene finds herself pregnant in 1960s France, where abortions are highly illegal and looked down upon. With exams slowly approaching, Anne has to find a way to terminate her pregnancy before it is too late. Happening is an incredibly grounded film and sweeps audiences into a whirlwind of emotions with a subject matter that is intimate and often unvoiced. The execution of the said story was beautiful and incredibly moving, showing the true unabashed reality that women of the past and present face daily with unwanted pregnancies.
In terms of the filmmaking techniques used, Happening utilizes a cinematography style that is simple yet effective. The film utilized tight shots, and at times lengthy, to communicate a sense of closeness with the protagonist and thus create a sympathetic understanding of all her fear, confusion, and stress. The aspect ratio also aided in creating this perspective, which immediately draws viewers into the story and constricts them in a way that becomes more and more claustrophobic as the tension of the plot builds.
A unique aspect of the film’s techniques was its emphasis on audio. The audio is loud and focused in a way that makes dialogue pointed and effective in engaging the senses of viewers. This editing choice was fruitful in transforming an otherwise slow-burn drama into an immersive film with gut-wrenching moments that harp on the terrifying quiet of loneliness and the uncomfortably loud medical examinations that carry the weight of Anne’s future.
The film’s pacing began as a slow burn but proved to be very captivating and was well paid off in the third act. To help with the pacing of the storyline, the film was divided into a chapter-like style, with each week of pregnancy being a new chapter. With every new week, the pressure grows heavier and begins to become more and more of an urgent issue rather than solely looming in the backdrop. This editing choice encapsulates a realistic experience, week by week, of the emotional and mental stress of a woman experiencing frantic panic trying to maintain control of her own body.
In terms of acting, the film was rich in talent. The lead, Anamaria Vartolomei as Anne Duchesne, gave a subdued performance that was nothing short of fantastic. Her ability to harness the duality of keeping a giant secret while also crying out for help was extraordinary and came across well. The exterior of her bodily presentation contrasted with the interior emotions and was communicated in such a way that was clear and understated in the best way. Another performance that particularly stood out was from Anna Mouglalis as Mme Riviére. She portrayed a woman who highly contrasted with Anne Duchesne and gave off a harsh coldness that came about through her seniority, having experienced society’s brutal disregard for women and their bodily rights. She was only on screen for a few scenes but left an impact that allowed viewers to understand her motivations powerfully and fully. The dichotomy of the two women adds many dimensions to the story and its depiction of the context’s effect on women. This is further explored in the characters of Anne Duchesne’s friends – Olivia (Louise Chevillotte), Héléne (Luàna Bajrami), and Brigette (Louise Orry-Diquéro). It is also essential to note how the male actors (such as the doctors, professor, lovers, etc.) each portrayed a certain kind of judgment or view on the topic of abortion that was applicable to their character and performed in such a way that was subtle yet increasingly adding pressure to Anne Duchesne dealing with the anxiety of an unwanted pregnancy.
Overall, Happening gives light to a topic of women’s rights that are considered to be taboo and seldom defended. It does so in a manner that is character-centric and offers audiences the opportunity to glimpse the personal impact that unwanted pregnancies have on women who are suppressed from having full ownership of reproductive rights. The topic is timely and deserves the recognition that it has received thus far.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Happening is a very raw film and, at times, difficult to watch because of the heaviness of the subject matter. It is best suited for mature audiences and emotionally prepared individuals to digest its content. For its delicate but genuine approach to the topic of abortion and its artistic choices in the storytelling development, Happening earns itself 5 stars.