sun 29/05/2022

Happening review - searingly intimate, furious abortion drama | reviews, news & interviews

Happening review - searingly intimate, furious abortion drama

Happening review - searingly intimate, furious abortion drama

Pregnancy as warfare, as a young woman searches for a future in 1960s France

Dance away: Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) gets lost

France is a female dystopia in Audrey Diwan’s immersive illegal abortion drama, set in 1963 and based on Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel.

Anamaria Vartolomei is Anne, the first girl from her rural family to go to college, where she is a modest but eager star student. Looming exams are a crucial staging-post towards full escape velocity from provincial, working-class restrictions into the writer’s life she desires. Between classes, she lounges on summer grass with her friends, verbally bold Brigitte (Louise Orrey Diquerro) and cautious, quiet Hélène (Luàna Bajrami-Rahmani, pictured below middle with Diquerro and Vartolomei). Sex fascinates them, Brigitte demonstrating techniques gleaned from skin mags in the dorm. The real thing and its consequences are, though, taboo.

1963 feels like now, period film stiffness evaporating in familiar youthful heat as Anne and her friends enter a bar playing rock’n’roll, and dance and laugh about boys. Anne flirts with a fireman. A month or so later, her doctor tells her she’s pregnant. Abandoned by her fearful friends, and with abortion a crime, she applies all her studious diligence and fierce determination to the problem. “I’d like a child one day,” she considers. “But not at the expense of a life.” Her agonised, moaning face as she thrusts hot knitting needles at the foetus is an awful inversion of Brigitte’s earlier demonstration of sex, and of giving birth.

Louise Orrey Diquerro, Luàna Bajrami-Rahmani and Anamaria Vartolomei in HappeningDiwan wanted cinematographer Laurent Tangy’s camera “to be Anne, not to look at Anne”, and we stay intimately close in a close-cropped, old-fashioned frame. Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s score adds the claustrophobic atmosphere of a submerged bathysphere. As the interior life she was building and all its future hopes are dismantled, scenes start with Anne emerging from white-outs, as if ordinary days have become near-death experiences or hallucinatory comas. Vartolomei’s immersion serves Diwan’s. She has a taut sense of outer stillness and inner turmoil, creating intense sympathy for young, lonely Anne as she twists between caged focus, and outraged disbelief at her foot in the trap.

Anne now enters a noir world of moonlit woodland, back-alley assignations and danger. Diwan reveals a secret society for the illicitly pregnant, with wordless nods of sorority between unwilling initiates as they move through an unsuspecting straight world, and swap backstreet abortionist reviews (“She boils all the instruments”). Such businesses were a British kitchen-sink cinema cliché in 1963. Rather than their sleazy male surgeons, Anne is directed to Mme Rivière (Anna Mouglais), a handsome woman with the harsh professionalism of the French Resistance, realistically dreading a knock at the door. Her operation’s excruciating particulars are again unblinkingly visceral.

Anamaria Vartolomei in HappeningAbortion is here the cost in an equation that starts with female lust. “I was ashamed,” Anne says, around the time she instigates her second sexual encounter, social hypocrisies torched by now, “but the desire was stronger.” She seems a future woman, forging her sexual self and character in her situation’s white heat, and insisting on liberation. As with the recent Chadian abortion film Lingui, The Sacred Bonds, her plight also flushes out a mostly female community.

Anne’s vital classes are meanwhile like studying in wartime, concentrating amidst the mental shelling an unspeakable pressure. In truthfully considering the death-defying, bloody heroism young women needed just to live (and from Kabul to Houston still do), Diwan legitimately taps the tropes of thrillers, war films, body-horror and sci-fi allegories such as The Handmaid’s Tale. Happening is sometimes difficult to watch, because it shows the female physical reality of patriarchal laws, as a war reporter might feel the need to show a severed limb. There is still hugely humane empathy and catharsis for its shell-shocked, indomitable heroine, who essentially wrote this tale.

Abortion is here the cost in an equation that starts with female lust

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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