Opening just as the expected but still shocking news broke that the Republican appointees to the Supreme Court are ready to begin clawing back women’s rights within a few weeks, Happening could not be more timely or galvanizing. As Mark Olsen wrote recently in the L.A. Times, “Happening is set in 1963 and yet it suddenly feels like a possible window into the future. Directed by Audrey Diwan, who co-wrote the adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel of the same name, the film follows a young French college student Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) as she attempts to get an abortion after discovering she is pregnant. Though abortion became legal in France in 1975, in 1963 it very much was not, with potential prison time for the woman, whoever performed the procedure and anyone who helped. Isolated from her friends and family, Anne becomes increasingly driven as the weeks pass by to find a solution to her problem — anything that will allow her to continue on with her life as she planned and fulfill her goal to become a writer…In an emailed statement, Diwan responded to the recent news [from SCOTUS], writing, “The purpose of art is also to bring to light some hidden truths. We all know, time has proven it, that when abortion becomes illegal, women who feel the need for it find other solutions. And not safe ones. I think that those who want to intervene in the abortion debate, whether for or against, should at least know clearly what a clandestine abortion is. We cannot talk about what we don’t know. And I include myself here: before reading Happening, I participated in this conversation for a long time without knowing … I was wrong. We should all know, this must not stay silent.'”
Happening was a critical, commercial and cultural phenomenon in its native France, where it opened in the autumn. The New York Times recently published a piece headlined “In France, a Film Has Women Sharing Their Stories of Abortion: Following the release of Happening, about an illegal abortion in 1963, the country’s contemporary stigma around the procedure is facing scrutiny.” The lede: “Happening, Audrey Diwan’s film about a 1960s back-street abortion in France, isn’t for the fainthearted. In fact, audience members have fainted at several screenings, including at the Venice Film Festival last September, where it won the Golden Lion. ‘It’s often men who say the experience took them to the limit of what they could bear,” Diwan said in a recent interview, “because they had never imagined what it might be like.’…Happening, which aims for a sense of immediacy onscreen, has led artists and activists to speak up about the taboo they feel still surrounds the procedure. ‘There is this constructed social shame that women are meant to feel, Diwan said, ‘and the sense that if we talk about it, we take the risk of calling into question this right, which in the end is never assured.’ In response to Happening, last December, the French feminist magazine Causette devoted a cover story to testimonies from 13 celebrities, under the title: “Yes, I Had An Abortion.” The author Pauline Harmange, who rose to international prominence last year with her debut book “I Hate Men,” also published an essay in March about her own experience, “Avortée” (“Aborted”).”
Some of the abundant praise for Happening:
“Magnificently written, directed, shot and performed, it reminds you that cinema can be such a powerful medium of empathy.” – Zhuo-Ning Su, Awards Daily
“It’s hard to think of a film more necessary in the current moment.” – David Jenkins, Little White Lies
We open Happening at the Claremont, Newhall, Playhouse and Town Center this Friday, May 13 and at the Monica Film Center, Glendale and NoHo on May 20.