Written by: Audrey Diwan, Marcia Romano, Anne Berest
Starring: Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet Klein, Sandrine Bonnaire, Louise Orry-Diquero
Of all things that define what it means to have freedom in life, it all comes down to having the ability to choose what you want to do. Having the power of choice, especially when it comes to one’s own bodily autonomy and what occurs within it. This has been brought up on many occasions recently stretching not only from the pandemic but the long-running issue of abortion and whether or not it should be allowed. Happening demonstrates what one would have to go through if the choice is not available and this harrowing feature does an exceptional job of capturing the anguish and desperation it brings.
With dreams of going to university and making it out of her rural French town, Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) discovers that she’s pregnant from a sexual encounter she had months ago. She seeks out the option to terminate the pregnancy, which at the time, in France, was illegal. Now with the threat of going to jail for even seeking the operation and putting others at risk for even offering help, she desperately seeks out what can provide her with the life she wants to live.
Films centered on women seeking abortions always carry a sense of dread, whereas them seeking a medical procedure comes with all of the baggage tied into it. With this film taking place during the 1960s in France where the operation was strictly prohibited, it makes every moment where she seeks assistance a vastly dangerous one. Tension always sits right at the surface throughout the entire feature as all it takes is one distrustful person to ruin her life completely. She needs to choose carefully and this feature goes a long way in displaying who truly serves as a confidant for her and others who put their own safety in front of helping someone they deem to care for. In a sense, can you blame them? Knowing the repercussions if it comes to light that you assisted someone in getting an abortion can put you in prison, it really adds a monumental amount of stress to this whole circumstance.
Along with the issues of access, this film highlights the limited opportunity that existed not only for individuals living in this town during this period but particularly for women. If opportunity through academics does not come through excelling in one’s studies, then the only other option is working on farms and living a life doing agricultural work. This becomes evident in the conversations held between Anne and her friends, which only further makes the seemingly difficult position of her to seek an abortion much easier. She either gets the abortion or forsakes the life she wants for her future. Momentary pain for the freedom to live her desired life.
The filmmaking on display is quite claustrophobic in the way it follows Anne and the conversations she has with others. It brings us closer to her and slips into her point of view in many moments. This becomes particularly noticeable when it introduces men into the story and the purpose they serve. Individuals who display an unrivaled amount of selfishness and ease in the decisions they make not having the lasting impact it has on the women of this time period. They try to seek out sexual partners but, at the end of the day, they’re not the ones who suffer the consequences when the operation has to transpire for a slip-up. The camera becomes antagonistic to the men in this feature because of it and it makes complete sense. They are never truly welcomed because whatever they have to offer is not worth the pain Anne is going to endure and this directorial choice certainly gets felt throughout the feature in a meaningful way.
With all of the focus of the camera following Anne, it means Anamaria Vartolomei needs to shine and, my goodness, she absolutely delivers. Not only in the way she acts in the moments of high tension but in the small looks she gives to display her distress. Her eyes do so much in moments where you know the character is puzzled about how to move forward, yet there’s this sense of determination. Anne, as a character, will not give up the life she wants to live because of a one-time sexual encounter and Vartolomei truly harnesses that feeling so well. Such a shining performance and I cannot wait what else she continues to bring as an actor.
Definitely a tough sit and some moments will make you want to look away. This film very much fits in line with other incredible films with the same subject matter like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and Never Rarely Sometimes Always with each of them being incredible in their own way. It’s hard not to draw parallels as to what is happening in the United States now and how this feature could very much be a reality for women in many states, making this an even more vital piece of art.