Review: Happening

Written and directed by Audrey Diwan, co-written by Marcia Romano and based on the novel of the same name by Annie Ernaux. In 1963, student Anne has a bright future ahead of her, but her dreams of finishing her studies is shattered when she becomes pregnant. As her final exams approach, Anne decides to take matters into her own hands. Starring: Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet Klein, Luàna Bajrami, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Louise Chevillotte, Pio Marmaï, Anna Mouglalis and Sandrine Bonnaire.

If you’re going into this thinking that you’re going to get a typical tale of young love, sex and an accidental pregnancy, then you’re in for a real surprise. This is not a story that’s at all concerned with how Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) got pregnant but how her world changes once she does. Simply put, unless you’re a person with very little emotion, you can’t watch this film without being horrified at the potential of any woman having to go through Anne’s experience. The progression of her desperation and the lengths that she has to go to will shake you to your core. It’s an unforgiving path, intensified by the direction and editing, refusing to let you escape this reality, to hit home its poignancy without doubt. You watch as a woman in her biggest time of need so far in her young life is slowly alienated, and as people who ought to help her dismiss and judge her.

The choices which Audrey Diwan makes with her direction and Géraldine Mangenot’s editing embrace the difficulty and the discomfort. While they’re not looking to turn this into a salacious or gritty affair, they repeatedly refuse to look away, moments will hold for much longer than you’ll expect. The tone captures the youthfulness of its characters but remains utterly grounded. There’s a harshness but not in a traditional sense, it hits differently, with a bigger power and thoughtfulness. It’s not trying to slap you with its difficult moments but to dig deeply under your skin. It also does a fantastic job of creating a 1960s aesthetic, the cinematography by Laurent Tangy hits the nail on the head. It has a slightly pastel, softened palette which adds both a great depth and texture to the visual. As well as some fantastic costume work throughout by Isabelle Pannetier, giving no room for you to be taken out of the feel of the era.

All of which of course centres around a powerhouse performance from Anamaria Vartolomei. Vartolomei takes an initially understated performance, it’s not going for erratic emotions and hot-headed reactions, then turns to a slow but sure collapse inward. The frantic desperation is always there in her eyes but she doesn’t try to cheapen it with a bigger physicality. In that way she allows Anne’s resilience and strength to come through more clearly. There’s a strong ensemble behind her, particularly the brief but memorable appearance from Anna Mouglalis, but there’s no doubt that the entire focus is on Anamaria Vartolomei.

Happening is a shock to the system, doing the utmost justice to its important and poignant story, which is becoming depressingly relevant today. The way that it moves and the patience that it holds, almost unbearably at times, refuse to let you escape Anne’s harrowing experience. It’s a film that will stay with you and strikes right at the heart, not at all softened by the beautiful 1960s landscape or its youthful air. It’s brilliantly made and led to perfection by Anamaria Vartolomei’s superb, affecting and honest portrayal.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Opening in NY & LA theaters on May 6th – Expanding nationally on May 13th

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