When I spoke with director/co-writer Audrey Diwan and star Anamaria Vartolomei about THE HAPPENING (L’événement ) via Zoom on April 23, 2022, the infamous Supreme Court leak about The Brethren’s intentions about Roe V. Wade hadn’t yet happened. Still a film about a single woman seeking an illegal abortion in 1963 France still had great relevance, not just here, but around the world. Asking about that relevance was the first question I put to director Audrey Diwan and actress Anamaria Vartolomei, and the prescience of their answers is eerie.
The film is based on Annie Ernaux’s memoir, and the impact of the sexism of France’s patriarchy then is infuriating as we see an intelligent woman being treated like a child, and worse, as she seeks to end the pregnancy that will end her future before it begins. It is that intelligence and determination, played by Vartolomei as Anne in a stunning and powerful performance, that anchors a film that is unflinching about how it wants to remind its audience what life was like before abortion was safe and legal. The fear, the desperation, and the incredible courage of those who dared to defy a society taking choice out of the hands of the people most intimately impacted by that choice. It plays like a thriller that puts us, as well as its protagonist, through an emotional ringer even as it sounds a warning siren.
We went on to talk about how Anne’s mantra, “I’ll manage” was also Diwan’s mindset in order to get the film made; the implications of the recent elections in France regarding women’s rights; depicting the physical ordeal Anne goes through in the course of the film; and adapting source material based on the real experiences of a living person.
We finished up with how the film speaks to the greater issues of sexual and intellectual freedom; how Vartomolei used silence, and aner, as effectively as dialogue in her performance; the specific camera work used; making the film personal; and deciding who gets the last word.
Diwan directed from a script she co-wrote with Marcia Romano and her previous work includes THE CONNECTION and THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART.
Vartomolei’s previous work includes HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE, JUST KIDS, and POSEUR.