After Cannes’ historical Palme D’or for Julia Ducournau’s Titane, Venice’s Leone d’Oro is also awarded to an entry by a female director. While another film written by Audrey Diwan premiered earlier this year at the Côte d’Azur (BAC Nord), L’événement is only her second feature in this role. The script is based on Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical account of her own illegal abortion.
The setting of the drama is France in the 1960s, before the sexual revolution. Ambitious literary student Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) finds herself involuntarily pregnant. Her education is the only hope she has of emerging from the vicious cycle of her family’s modest surroundings. Fully aware that she and anyone who helps her could face legal repercussions, Anne tries to find a way to terminate. One of the doctors she consults tricks her into injecting herself with a prenatal supplement that has the opposite effect of what she was asking for, strengthening the embryo.
Happening is not an easy film to watch. While not overtly graphic, none of the woman’s struggles are masked or whitewashed. During one of the first press screenings, two members of the audience fainted at the point when, in desperation, Anne reaches for the notorious knitting needle – coincidentally, another point of commonality with Titane.
The journey this main character takes is not so much of a physical one, yet in subject matter and tone the work bears a striking resemblance to Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at 2020’s Berlinale. The loneliness of women in this situation, and their being driven into a corner, is captured in both with a close, hand-held camera.
An intimate portrait like this stands and falls with its lead. Romanian-born Vartolomei gives an intrepid and empathetic performance that easily makes up for the lack of tension during the arc of suspense in the second half of the feature.
Happening is set in a past that many of its viewers have not experienced for themselves, therefore it is shocking to see how relevant the plot has become in the weeks leading up to its premiere, with Texas’ new abortion law effectively recreating the circumstances faced by the protagonist.
This is not the film you seein order to be entertained, but it is a necessary warning shot for the backlash that the human rights movement is currently experiencing in some parts of the world.
Happening (L’événement) does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.