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Happening (2021) – Review: An Immersive and Well-Crafted Film That’s Worth a Watch

May 12, 2022

Quick Thoughts – Grade – A – Adapted from Annie Ernaux’s 2000 autobiographical novel L’événementl, The Golden Lion (highest prize at the Venice FIlm Festival) winning Happening is an expertly crafted piece of filmmaking by director Audrey Diwan. 

In order to make Happening feel like a thriller, Diwan and her cinematographer Laurent Tangy decided that they’d use a cramped 1.37:1 aspect ratio that boxes in the main character Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei – who won a César Awards for Most Promising Actress). The decision was smart because whenever I think about the film I see close ups of Anne as she struggles to get an illegal abortion in 1963 France, while simultaneously keeping up with her college exams which will play a big role with her future as a writer. Beautiful beaches seem claustrophobic, idyllic country roads seem lonely, and dancing at bars feels incredibly un-important. The sole focus is on Anne, and her tense journey.

The film tightens the vice around Anne as the movie breaks itself up into chapters that show us just how far along she is and just how far behind she is at her school studies. With no support, she’s on her own as she doesn’t want to tell her parents, or her friends, who suggest “it’ll be the end of the world” for the single, middle-class Anne. Doctors are no help because if they give her any assistance they could be prosecuted and either go to jail or lose their practice. So, the desperate Anne decides to hunt down Mme. Rivière (Anna Mouglalis), a woman who assists women with their abortions (for 400 francs). From there, things get even more harrowing as Anne painfully deals with the aftermath.

Happening works so well because of Anamaria Vertolomei who is able to convey about 47 different emotions without saying a word. There are no visible weights on her shoulders, but it appears as if the weight of the world is pressing down on her as she walks around her beautiful rural town. Her performance is filmed in long takes that see her dealing with unhelpful friends, lying doctors, and a male schoolmate named Jean who suggests they have sex because she can’t get pregnant twice. Throughout the film she tries to abort the child herself (it doesn’t work obviously, and leads to nothing but pain), while publicly keeping up a stoic demeanor as the world closes in on itself. The cinéma vérité style is used well as the camera feels like a ghost that follows Anne around and is privy to all the private moments that the world never sees. This makes Vertolomei’s performance more impressive as she’s on camera 99% of the time and has to seem totally natural as a film crew surrounds her. You can tell that Anne just wants to scream at the world, but that would end with her being ostracized and potentially put in jail, so instead she sells her belongings  (to get the 400 francs), and internalizes a large amount of anger. 

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I do think it handles the sadness, loneliness, and desperation of Anne incredibly well. Nothing is easy here, and the movie never lets us forget that. 

Final Thoughts – It’s definitely worth a watch and I think it will be an awards contender later this year.

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