The winner of the prestigious Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival finally hits UK cinemas, with Happening, the second film from journalist-turned-director Audrey Diwan, arriving with a hive’s worth of buzz.
Set in France in 1963, Happening is the story of Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), a promising student with a bright future ahead of her. This path is thrown into question by a one-night stand that results in a pregnancy, something that would almost certainly put an end to her academic aspirations. Anne concludes that abortion may be the only option, but the more people she lets in on her predicament, the more isolated she becomes.
Based on the novel by Annie Ernaux, which itself is inspired by personal experience, the story takes your hand and ensures every step of Anne’s journey is witnessed. The awkward silences, the shifts in body language, and some rather graphic moments toward the end are all deeply felt.
Diwan makes the conversations natural, putting people rather than the era at the forefront. It’s always clear that while this is set over half a century ago, this is a dilemma many girls still face.
Vartolomei is also key to the film’s impact. Having to keep her emotions shielded from the world but visible to the audience is a tough ask, but the young star delivers a performance that’s affecting and authentic. Also on fine form is Sandrine Bonnaire playing Anne’s mother Gabrielle, whose aspirations for her children often override her maternal care.
Like 2020’s harrowing Pieces of A Woman, Happening is a film that might require a post-screening drink to digest everything that you’ve just experienced. But subtle acting and fearless direction make for a period piece that speaks to modern issues.