Happening Review

France, the 1960s. Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) is an ambitious final-year student with her whole life ahead of her, but is suddenly forced to pause everything when she finds out she’s pregnant, at a time when abortion is still illegal. With nobody to help her, she sets out alone.

by Ella Kemp |
Updated on
Release Date:

22 Apr 2022

Original Title:

Happening (2022)

A promising young woman’s life is thrown into disarray in 1960s France — a time not so far away yet nonetheless so shockingly antiquated — as an unwanted pregnancy forces Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), a bright and headstrong young student, to embark on a perilous odyssey to get an illegal abortion. Director Audrey Diwan brings to life the true story of writer Annie Ernaux by adapting her memoir into an arresting, maddening yet always elegant feature about the taboo — yet widespread — procedure she underwent.


The film’s standout performance comes from Vartolomei, who sells her character’s tenacity and terror with equal commitment. It’s not a showy turn, but the strength in her stare is dumbfounding. So much of the film hinges on exactly how Anne will handle the inevitable isolation, and Vartolomei makes you feel like you’re in this thriller against the clock right alongside her, as opposed to simply being asked for pity.

What could have felt like a sad yet distant period-piece has an urgency and immediacy.

Diwan does well to avoid melodrama, allowing moments of beauty: in nights out dancing among friends, and the way the light hits your skin just right on a warm summer’s day. At the same time, the filmmaker never shies away from the gruesome physical turmoil Anne suffers as she navigates her dire circumstances, often taking matters into her own hands. What could have felt like a sad yet distant period-piece has an urgency and immediacy: women and girls might no longer be breaking the law in most of the West, but there is a loneliness and a strain that hasn’t aged a day.

Happening knows this — it understands how one accident can simultaneously have nothing to do with your identity while still swallowing you whole until you manage to find a way out. It’s a powerful story told with fearless passion. The fight for women’s autonomy over their bodies is never really over.

More than a biopic or period-piece, this is a stylish time capsule reaching into the present with unnerving clarity. Abortion care is still so hard — this film makes that fact sink into your bones.
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