HAPPENING – Review by Martha K Baker

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Watch Anamaria Vartolomei’s face. From start to finish of the tense thriller, Happening, Vartolomei portrays the many moods of her character. Anne is a bright student (her mother thinks she’s gifted, of course), who finds herself in what used to be called, “the family way.” The country is France and the decade is the Sixties, and Anne is in deep trouble.

“Happening” is a canny film, written by Marcia Romano and director Audrey Diwan. They based the script on Annie Ernaux’s novel of her experience as a young woman seeking to end her pregnancy at a time when doing so, or helping, or thinking about helping, is criminal.

A kindly doctor examines Anne. “Have you had sexual relations?” She says “no.” When he pronounces Anne enceinte despite her lie, she declares, “I want to have a child later, but I don’t want a child instead of a life.” She turns to him to plead for help. “You cannot ask me that,” he says.

As the weeks go by, she wrestles her secret. She studies an anatomy book, she daydreams during lit class on Camus and Sartre, she seeks help from a man who paws her, she visits her family. She confides in a dorm mate. Finally, she tells the impregnator — for all the good that does.

All the while, Vartolomei’s face records Anne’s increasing desperation at the binds of the government. The weight of the weeks crushes her. The tension builds in Happening with the weeks cited in the interstices — six weeks, seven, nine, and finally 12.

This is not the story of a class or a race. It is the story of one young woman. It is an intimate story, made more so because Diwan often places her camera close to Anne, so the viewer has her back: the camera hovers over Anne’s shoulder as she steals food from the dorm fridge or does her homework or takes her turn in the gang showers.

Under Diwan’s direction and writing, Happening is not coy, not in the doctor’s office or the dorm toilet. Happening is not for the shy. The film is for those willing to really look at women’s tribulations. Happening is not romantic or sentimental. It is powerful and meaningful. Just look at Anne’s face.

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Martha K. Baker (Archived Contributor)

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.