Tuesday, May 10, 2022

It's set in 1963 but couldn't be more timely

Talk about timing. The French movie Happening reaches the US at a time when few topics feel more incendiary or relevant than abortion. Director Audrey Diwan tells the story of a 23-year-old student (Anamaria Vartolomei) who hopes to become a writer. A one-night stand has left Vartolomei's Anne pregnant. The year: 1963 and abortion is illegal in France. The rest of this spare and artfully focused movie involves the obstacles that Anne must surmount to obtain an abortion. Anne wants a chance to establish her life: She does not want to be a mother -- not now. A physician (Fabrizio Rongione) refuses to help, and as the story progresses, Anne becomes increasingly desperate. At one point, she tries to self abort with knitting needles. Nothing goes easily. Her friends don't all stick by her, classmates shun her as a woman of low morals, and the man with whom Anne had a brief fling seems clueless. Anne certainly doesn't want to marry and become a housewife. Eventually, Anne finds  a woman who does abortions, which leads to unflinchingly presented scenes that are difficult to watch. Adapting a memoir by Annie Ernaux, Diwan has made a movie that's bound to resonate with those who remember pre-Roe days and which may well serve as a warning for young women who don't understand what it's like to live in a society in which women can't control their bodies and thus, their destinies. Happening is both powerful and, in this fraught moment, necessary.

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