Happening (L’événement)is set in 1960s France when abortion was illegal. It shows the dangerous ordeal one young woman went through to get an abortion. It’s relevant in so many ways to what is happening in the United States now.
Happening (L’événement) is told in low key tones. There are lots of shots of Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) walking, walking, walking as if the journey she’s on is endless. And it feels endless. The doctors she seeks help from won’t help her. Her girlfriends at school where she lives in a dorm don’t have a clue.
Anne doesn’t tell anyone what’s happening at first. She never tells her mother (Sandrine Bonnaire). She raised the money she needed by selling all her things. Her girlfriends only find out what’s happening when she has to be taken to the hospital.
She goes to the boy who was involved, Maxime (Julien Frison). He wants to abandon her but eventually finds another girl who gave her the name of Mme Rivière (Anna Mouglalis), who will perform the illegal abortion.
Before she found Mme Rivière she tried to do it herself with a long needle. Mme Rivière did one treatment and it didn’t work. Anne went back, and against Mme Rivière’s advice, insisted they try again. That time it worked, but left Anne in bad condition. These scenes are graphic and difficult.
This took weeks of worry and desperation on Anne’s part. She was young and scared and didn’t know where to get help. She was determined but there were so many obstacles in her way.
The film, directed and co-written by Audrey Diwan, was quiet. No hysterics, no big emotions. Instead there was a sense of quiet personal desperation. It was a portrait of how difficult it is to overcome a social and legal system that won’t allow a woman an abortion when she needs one. Similar difficulties face American women in 2022 – 80 years later and we’re back in the same health crisis. This is one of the most relevant films of the year.
In case you haven’t watched it yet, check out The Janes, a documentary about abortions in Chicago in the years just before Roe v. Wade became law. Since Roe v. Wade has been struck down, the situation in this country may go back to what we saw in The Janes.
Although the French considered abortion illegal in 1960, when this film is set, they are currently a leading progressive voice in this issue.
The film is available on AMC+ or can be rented on Prime Video.