Happening (‘L’Événement’): Audrey Diwan’s Top Winner, 2021 Venice Film Fest 

Audrey Diwan’s harrowing drama revolves around a bright college student in early-1960s France who finds her emancipation threatened when she gets pregnant, with no avenues for legal abortion.


The recent obstacles to legal abortion in Texas, the Supreme Court’s refusal to nix the restrictive new law and the efforts of American conservatives to diminish the Roe v. Wade make Happening resonate all the more forcefully.

Audrey Diwan’s intimate film offers a chronicle of a young woman’s fight for control of her body, featuring Annamaria Vartolomei in an astonishing performance.




Diwan and co-writer Marcia Romano adapted the screenplay from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical 2000 novel by

The film is remarkable in its admirable attention to detail of the socio-political context of regional France in 1963.

Annie (Vartolomei), Hélène (Luàna Bajrami) and Brigitte (Louise Orry Diquero) are college roommates studying literature in Angoulême in the Southwest.

Diwan and Romano’s script, along with their naturalistic actors, conveys just how taboo sex is for young single women in this puritanical climate.

When Annie discovers, three weeks after a clandestine hookup with a visiting student from Bordeaux, that she’s pregnant, she is humiliated and terrified.

Continuing her studies in order to accomplish her goal and become a teacher would be impossible as unwed mother.

The doctor who confirms her pregnancy (Fabrizio Rongione) is sympathetic to her dilemma. But he urges her not to speak about an abortion (the word ISs never uttered in the film) given the rigid laws against it, the threat of imprisonment and the extreme health risks of illegal procedure.

In the fourth week of pregnancy, Annie sees another doctor (François Loriquet) who prescribing a drug that will induce her period but instead strengthens the embryo.

She seeks the advice of classmate Jean (Kacey Mottet-Klein), a ladies’ man, who might know about abortions; instead, he opportunistically hits on her.

Her best friend Brigitte, so eager for sexual experience that she studied her brother’s porn stash and demonstrates  masturbation technique for Annie and Hélène, turns uptight, telling Annie she’s on her own.

Annie visits the baby’s father (Julien Frison) and inform him of her wish to terminate the pregnancy, but he’s embarrassed by her abrasive behavior in front of his friends and abdicates all responsibility.

As the weeks tick on and the window to take decisive action begins closing, Annie is increasingly isolated.

She’s unable to confide in her stoical mother (Sandrine Bonnaire), who runs a humble bar; she represents a life from which Annie wants to escape. Then she upsets the professor (Pio Marmaï) whose high hopes for her dissolve as her grades start slipping.

Cinematographer Laurent Tangy sticks close to the protagonist, searching for signs of surrender in her face even as her resolve never falters.

“I’d like a child one day, but not instead of a life,” she tells Rongione’s doctor during a second visit in which he’s nervous over the legal and professional repercussions.

Vartolomei’s performance is defined by the panic in Annie’s eyes and her movements as the anger at her lack of choices. The strain of having to keep her problem secret, and suppress her fears, is evident throughout.

Diwan shapes the film into a psychological thriller in which the protagonist is engaged in a fight even with her own body.

The film never sensationalizes Annie’s troubled journey for dramatic effect.

She’s finally directed to an illegal abortionist (Anna Mouglalis)to perform the procedure. The ordeal becomes almost an out-of-body experience.

Happening is often a tough watch, compassionate but brutally honest in its depiction of a personal struggle.

With abortion still illegal in many countries and under threat in others, such as the U.S., the film serves as urgent reminder of the need to protect women’s reproductive rights.

Venice Film Fest (Competition)
Cast: Annamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet-Klein, Luàna Bajrami, Louise Orry Diquero, Louise Chevillotte, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire, Anna Mouglalis, Leonor Oberson, Fabrizio Rongione
Director: Audrey Diwan
Screenwriters: Audrey Diwan, Marcia Romano

Running time: 99 minutes