Director Audrey Diwan‘s “Happening,” based on Annie Ernaux’s novel, tells the story of the struggles a college student faces while trying to get an illegal abortion in France in the 1960s. The film, which was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, is a period drama that feels timely, especially as the abortion debate continues to rage in the United States.

Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) is intelligent with a promising future ahead. University exams are coming up and the stress is building: especially when the young woman learns she is pregnant. Anne wants to terminate her pregnancy, but she has very few options because abortion is illegal in France. There are strict laws in place that will harshly punish anyone seeking or aiding in the procedure, and Anne has nowhere to turn for help. Refusing to throw away the opportunities she has worked so hard to earn, Anne finds a woman who will perform an abortion. The procedure nearly kills her.

Diwan creates an experience that feels extremely intimate, especially in the way she chooses to stage the graphic abortion scenes. The audience is right next to Anne on her journey, experiencing the shocking reality and seeing what Anne sees. This allows viewers to empathize with her fear and suffering and despair on a deeper level, and it’s a gut-wrenching experience. I won’t soon forget the scene where Ann attempts to perform an abortion on herself, it’s one of the more horrific things I’ve ever seen.

All of these creative choices make for an extremely effective film, and “Happening” feels highly personal no matter your life experience, age or gender.

By: Louisa Moore

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