Happening (2021) | Review

 We often speak of the women's rights movement as though it were a thing of the past. It's something a collection of brave and brilliant minds did decades ago to ensure we had the right to vote and autonomy over our own bodies. What's often and easily forgotten in the narrative is how many of these women are still alive today. The years of work to enact these monumental decisions are now, in the same lifetime, being flipped and burned, warning the next generation that we mustn't even dream of a world where a woman has a right to choose.

Audrey Diwan takes us back to France in the 1960s, an era not too far from our own. It's a decade where many of our mothers were born. It was a decade of change for so many. An electrifying Anamaria Vartolomei as Anne Duchesne is our lead, and we join her in the heart of her exam season, where she has unexpectedly fallen pregnant. There's a claustrophobia present, not just in Diwan's aesthetic choices but also in the stifling energy at the heart of the film, where women are young and free, but they mustn't say that one word: abortion. 

Films so often save their emotional peak until the end because they earn it that way. We spend x amount of minutes with the characters, and therefore we are connected just enough that we may finally feel we may empathise with their catharsis. Diwan breaks that rule. It is deeply emotional from the offset because we spend so much time in private with our protagonist that we see her with no guard up. We see her panic, fury, and ultimately, as a person with a uterus, you will know her pain regardless of whether or not you've walked a mile in her shoes. 

There's there feeling of desperation for the audience. Diwan makes us want to shout at the screen because the pain is so agonising that it makes us feel sick. The treatment from doctors, the fear of judgement from peers, the lack of freedom to speak - Diwan captures all of these intricacies without making them too pointed. Abortion is an invisible villain in her film. It's the choking presence in every scene that brutally works against Anne. Daring to speak on it results in instant shut down, as if you might go to prison just for thinking these things. "Never say that, not even as a joke", one friend tells Anne when she dares muse that there may be a chance she might need this service. 

There is no wonder why Diwan has garnered so many accolades, such as Venice's prestigious Golden Lion and FIPRESCI prizes (as well as a BAFTA Best Director nomination), for her work on this film. Happening's real power is in the sizzling heat of the contemporary, becoming more threatening as days pass while men administer over our bodies. It's the scream into the abyss we are all feeling at our core, and Diwan releases that into the stratosphere, all the while saying, "This is what that reality looks like. We've been here before".

Happening (L'événement) releases in theaters May 6th and on demand June 21st. 

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