‘Happening’ Movie Review & Story Explanation

About

Happening is a 2022 French drama film directed by Audrey Diwan from a screenplay by Diwan and Marcia Romano, based on the 2000 novel of the same name by Annie Ernaux. Happening follows Annie, a bright young student who faces an unwanted pregnancy while abortion was still illegal in 1960s France.

FrenchL’événement
Directed byAudrey Diwan
Screenplay byAudrey DiwanMarcia RomanoAnne Berest
Based onL’événement
by Annie Ernaux
Produced byEdouard WeilAlice Girard

Review & Storyline Explanation

Annie (played by actress Anne Dorval) is a bright young student in her 20s who faces an unwanted pregnancy while abortion was still illegal in 1960s France. The film asks the question: What happens when a woman finds herself pregnant? Is she forced to give up everything to have this child? Or is she given the freedom to make her own choice?

The story takes place in the 1960s when abortion was illegal in France. Annie is in love with Jean-Pierre but has no desire to have children. One day, after a visit from her gynaecologist, Annie discovers that she is pregnant. She immediately tells her boyfriend, Jean-Pierre (played by actor Guillaume Gouix). After much discussion and soul-searching, they decide to proceed with an abortion.

Despite their efforts to keep the pregnancy a secret, word gets out, and Annie’s family is devastated. Her mother (played by actress Catherine Jacob) is a devout Catholic who takes her daughter’s decision as an affront to her religion. She denounces her daughter and threatens to disown her if she goes through with the abortion. Annie asks Jean-Pierre to marry her, but he refuses because he has no desire to raise the child with someone who doesn’t love him enough.

Annie is torn between those who want to support her and those who do not. She sees that she has no choice but to go through with it alone and decides to have the abortion in Switzerland, where it was legal at the time. She travels there on her own accompanied only by a nurse from the clinic, leaving behind everyone she loves in France for what will be an hour-long procedure—a “simple operation” described as “just like having a tooth pulled out.” This film is based on Ernaux’s real-life experience of having an illegal abortion at age 21 in 1967 under very difficult circumstances: “In my case, I didn’t have anyone behind me. My mother was against it. I had no help and I couldn’t even tell my sister because she was only 19 or 20.”

The film portrays the pain of the decision she made as a young woman, as well as her feelings of isolation and shame in the aftermath of her abortion, which took place before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973 in the United States. She tells us that when she returned to France after having the procedure, people didn’t ask about her trip to Switzerland, but rather inquired about her health, wondering if she had come down with a cold or an illness while travelling. Annie realizes that “no one wants to know what you did; they just want you to feel bad about it so they can feel good about themselves.”

Annie Ernaux is now 76 years old and has written many books on women’s lives and experiences over three centuries, including most recently La Cause des femmes (The Cause of Women), published in 2015. She is still writing novels and essays on women today that are relevant to our own times—as well as writing letters to young women who write to her asking for advice on how to deal with their own.

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