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Oh, It’s Happening Alright

A Review of the 2022 film Happening

The past few years have seen a recurring plotline in films of “girl needs an abortion, girl takes friend along for the ride while she goes to great lengths to get said abortion.” Some of these films are humorous (or try to be) like 2020’s Unpregnant or 2021’s Plan B, (which is actually very funny), while other films are much more devastating.

Eliza Hittman’s 2020 film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, was a doozy of a film about the real struggles of someone traveling out of state to NY to try to receive an abortion. It was heartbreaking to watch, mostly, because of how real it felt. You can read my full review of Hittman’s film here.

While Hittman’s film took place in modern-day, the struggles of its main character Autumn, felt like a terrible thing of the past. In recent times, however, that past has become present again, as the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 22, 2022, reversing a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. This could lead to huge sections of states rolling back abortion rights immediately and later potentially criminalizing both the doctors performing abortions and women seeking bodily autonomy. This brings me to Audrey Diwan’s film, Happening.

Diwan wrote and directed L'événement (Happening), which is based on Annie Ernaux’s novel by the same name. It tells the story of Anne, a woman studying literature during the 1960s, who finds out she is pregnant after her first sexual encounter. During the time of the novel and film, abortion was still illegal in France. Anne is a promising and bright student, hoping to pass her exams to go on to study literature at the university level. She goes with her friends to dance with boys, but all of them “speculate” about sex, swearing it off until marriage. The alternative, becoming pregnant and having to drop out of school, is the worst-case scenario. It’s the harrowing possibility of that scenario that our protagonist Anne finds herself in early on in the film.

Anne spends most of Happening trying to find a way to have an illegal abortion. Most doctors will not treat her. They would be opening themselves up to the possibility of being thrown in jail for doing the procedure. One disapproving doctor even goes out of his way to stop her (I won’t explain how, as it would spoil this tense sequence in the film). The film is punctuated throughout by the description of how many weeks pregnant Anne is, as she finds herself in increasingly desperate circumstances. Her studies begin to fall by the wayside as she struggles to find a way out of her pregnancy. She is determined to continue her studies, but her attention to finding a way out of her current situation is wrecking her shot at being admitted to a university by diverting her attention.

Anne, played by Anamaria Vartolomei, is a quiet force throughout the film. Once she finds out she is pregnant, she finds herself alone. She cannot go to her family or her teachers. When she appeals to her sexual partner for help, he is disgusted and terrified that he will also get into trouble. Her two closest friends also abandon her in her time of need, fearing that they will be arrested by association. A male friend tries to proposition her when she goes to him for help, stating something along the lines of, “there’s no worry, you’re already pregnant.” Gross.

Anne finally receives the name of a woman who performs illegal abortions. This is not done in some kind of clinic or hospital; it’s done in a woman’s apartment. Anne sells most of her belongings to try to come up with the money for an abortion. The film makes a point of showing us that she is the hope and pride of her family. Her hands are soft from studying, rather than rough from doing dishes at her parent’s bar. Her hope becomes our hope: that she will somehow get out of this pregnancy and continue to lead the life she is meant to lead.

While Happening may not have connected with me on as emotional a level as Never Rarely Sometimes Always, it certainly scares the bejesus out of you by being extremely graphic in showing the lengths to which Anne goes to try to terminate her pregnancy. This struggle, which seems so outdated, like such a thing of the past, is going to become a lot more common in our new and terrifying future. Overturning Roe v. Wade will affect all women, but in particular, it will affect young and poor women. Reversing Roe v. Wade will also lead to many unsafe abortion practices. Diwan’s film, despite taking place during the 1960s, makes a strong case for access to safe abortions and a woman’s bodily autonomy in any time period. Let’s hope that more writers and directors continue to advocate for safe access for all. We need support now more than ever.


Diana DiMuro

Associate Editor

Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro




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