Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 14, 2022 1:06 pm 
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A girl struggles with an unwanted pregnancy, 12 years before abortion was legalized in France

L'Événement, same title as Antonioni's classic but no relation, is a handsome, prettily lighted film in Academy ratio about a star university student who gets accidentally pregnant in 1963 France, twelve years before abortion became legal in France and four years before the advent of the Pill, and all she goes through to end the pregnancy and save her promising literary career. The film is notable for its unsparing detail about gynecological exams and procedures, in which the impressive, convincing star, Anamaria Vartolomei, is fearless, and for the clear way that contemporary attitudes are depicted. The character Vartolomei plays is called Anne Duchesne. The film is adapted from the eponymous autobiographical novel (Gallimard, 2000) by Annie Ernaux by the author, the director, and Marcia Romano. (Ernaux has published more than two dozen autobiographical novels, and won many awards.) Sadly, at a time when the right to abortion is being eroded in state after state and the likelihood of the Supreme Court's overruling the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision looms, this story is highly relevant in America. No film shows better why this matters.

Of course they're aiming at different things, but unlike Eliza Hittmann's tedious, dutiful Never Rarely Sometimes Always, or Crist ian Mungiu's relentless, flair-free 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Happening is a film that depicts what the pregnant girls's surrounding social situation is like.(I have not read the book, but it sounds like Ernaux is a great storyteller.)* We realize that in this world, for "respectable girls," Anne Duchesne's classmates, pre-marital sex is a thrilling fantasy but too dangerous to indulge in because accidental pregnancy is unthinkable. Anne has fallen into the unthinkable but she is tough enough to tackle it - on her own. Many are unsympathetic to her cause and most are afraid since anyone participating in abortion in France at this time is guilty of a crime and could go to jail. It is risky even to talk about it.

The French film is suspenseful, eventually intense and troubling, as Anne strives (not altogether successfully academically; her work deteriorates notably) to maintain a facade while she struggles to end her pregnancy by one means or another as the weeks, shown in on screen inter-titles, go by one after another. A self-inflicted method of injections and needles fails, partly because she learns doctors have tricked her with a prescription that strengthens the fetus, not weakens it. At "twelve weeks," Anne has gotten nowhere, but is at last headed for a back alley abortionist, more up a stairway. She is a slim, youthful woman with a deep voice. We see every moment of it from Anne's POV. There's no anesthetic, and she's ordered not to scream, which isn't easy. It's not an abortion; it's a procedure to cause a miscarriage.

It doesn't work. She goes back and has it done again, at great risk. This time it works but the process is nightmarish and painful and after help from her roommate Olivia (Louise Chevillotte), She has to be rushed to the hospital. Blessedly, for her, but doctor labels the event fausse couche - "a miscarriage." She's legal. Her life and her future have been saved, but only just.

In between the two procedures she has gone to her professor (Pio Marmaï) and begged him for the notes on his recent lectures so she can catch up and when asked if she has been sick replies, "a sickness that happens only to women and turns them into housewives." She tells him she no longe wants to teach but to become a writer. The film makes clear she went back for the dangerous second try because of her choice to risk death or imprisonment rather than give up her future.

Naturally, it didn't exactly happen like quite this, and things didn't look at the darkest moments like a yellow-tinged 17th-century painting as they do in dp Laurent Tangy's lovely square-framed cinematography. But Audrey Diwan has delivered a film that combines the harsh and shocking and the classic and beautiful in an original and remarkable way.

The film features Kacey Mottet Klein as Anne's friend Jean and Luàna Bajrami and Louise Orry-Diquéro as her friends Hélène and Brigitte, respectively.

Happening/L'Événement,100 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2021, winning the top prize, the Golden Lion for Best Film, and showed at two dozen other festivals in 2021 and 2022 including Chicago, Vienna, Miami, AFI, Rotterdam, Palm Spring, Sundance, ND/NF and SFIFF. At the Césars Anamaria Vartolomei won Most Promising Actress (Meilleur espoir féminin) and the film won Best Adaptation; nominations for Best Director and Best Film. It won Best Director at the BAFTA awards and numerous other awards and nominations at other festivals. The film opened theatrically in France Nov. 24, 2021, with an AlloCiné press rating of 4.1 (82%) based on 33 reviews. US release May 6, 2022.
*The French Canadian film about a teenage girl who chooses to keep an unwanted pregnancy, Jean Leblanc's Les nôtres/Our Own (2021), also provides a rich surrounding social picture, but it's different because it doesn't lead to abortion.

Happening/l'Événement, 100 mins.., debuted at Venice Sept. 5, 2021, and showed in 27 other international festivals including Vienna, Miami, AFI, Rotterdam, Sundance, Goteborg, and in Apr. 2022, New Directors/New Films and SFIFF. US theatrical release May 6, 2022.

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