French filmmaker Audrey Diwan’s “Happening” has had a long journey. But it began back at the Venice Film Festival in September 2021 when the jury, led by president Bong Joon Ho and with members including Chloé Zhao, awarded the film the Golden Lion, its top prize. Since then, this sensitive and well-directed abortion drama has notched nominations for Best Director at the BAFTAs and nominations at the César Awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Female Newcomer, and the film also screened virtually at this year’s Sundance. Now, it’s finally headed to stateside theaters on May 6 from IFC Films. Exclusively on IndieWire, watch the official trailer for the film below.
Adapting a 2000 memoir by Annie Ernaux, Audrey Diwan directs French-Romanian actress Anamaria Vartolomei (a quietly volcanic presence) as Anne. She’s a promising young student steadfastly committed to her studies, who dreams of becoming a writer, in France in 1963, a period right on the verge of social and political tumult (the students depicted are deep into reading and vigorously debating Sartre). But Anne is unexpectedly pregnant, and we slowly see her start to drift away from her studies and her social background, framed increasingly out of focus by cinematographer Laurent Tangy as the movie progresses. As the weeks of her pregnancy go by, it’s harder to hide her belly, but this is also a time of enormous stigma and shame around abortions, then illegal in France and relegated to behind-closed-doors operations whose outcomes are often prison or death.
Vartolomei’s gaze is either calculated, calculating, or information-absorbing, as the actress shifts between modes of terror, panic, confusion, and determination. Her emotions remain at an even keel until the film inevitably heads into its harrowing final passages, as Anne must take action or accept her pregnancy, with her fate mostly in the hands of men.
The film’s tight framing is visibly influenced by films like Gus van Sant’s “Elephant,” Laszlo Nemes’ “Son of Saul, the Dardenne brothers, and Andrea Arnold. While “Happening” grips you with a docudrama-like realism, Diwan isn’t afraid to close the walls in on the viewer with a few cinematic flourishes that at times can make the experience feel like a horror movie.
From IndieWire’s review out of Sundance:
“Happening” is an authentic and earnest work, and though it declines to polemicize, it is inarguably pro-choice. That it played at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the top prize, in the wake of renewed threats to reproductive freedoms around the world made it feel all the more urgent — but there’s no didacticism here, just one woman’s true story.
“Happening” will receive an exclusive theatrical release beginning May 6.