Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) is a literature student in '60s France. When she discovers that she is pregnant, she tries to navigate both the changes in her body and her own decision to end the pregnancy - despite the fact that it is illegal and will result in jail for her, or anyone who helps her...
Movies about pregnancies generally tend to examine how they have the potential to upend women's lives. However, more recent efforts have been upfront about women deciding to end their pregnancies, such as Thomas Ryan's delicate 'Twice Shy', centred on a father and daughter's dynamic during an unplanned pregnancy for a young woman. 'Happening', however, takes a much more direct approach and presents our central character and her situation in stark terms.
She is adamant that she doesn't want this pregnancy to continue, and not only has to navigate the social aspect of it, but also evade the legal restrictions placed on abortion in France during the '60s. Director Audrey Diwan places the camera uncomfortably close to Anamaria Vartolomei. It's always jutting over her shoulder or chasing her down harshly bright corridors and the like, closing in on her at every available opportunity. Moreover, the female form is presented in equally stark terms, without any kind of male lens attached.
It's bold stuff, unflinching in how Anamaria Vartolomei's character deals with the situation and her growing desperation as the days and weeks clock by. What 'Happening' does not do, however, is apply a moral judgment to any part of it. In fact, it's because it makes no accusations that it's able to be this upfront about it. The risks that the character goes through are essentially thrown up by the legal barriers to safe, legal access. Moreover, the conclusion is itself a potent rebuke of these barriers. Director Audrey Diwan and co-writers Marcia Romano and Anne Berest make this abundantly clear and leave no room for doubt.
Anna Vartolomei has to carry this movie on her back, and it's to her credit that she is able to navigate the different aspects and still never lose sight of the story. She is all at once a teenager and a woman, straddling the awkward phases between the two, and all the while trying to carry the emotional burden of her situation under wraps. It's not surprising that she won awards across the festival circuit, and will likely go on to have a promising career.
'Happening' is an uncompromising examination of an unplanned pregnancy, strengthened by powerful writing and unique performances, resulting in a thought-provoking experience.