Happening

The past several years have been an ongoing study in prevailing disquietude—this is especially true of the current moment, when the rights of people who can get pregnant are all too easily threatened. As the saying goes, prohibiting abortion doesn’t stop people from doing it but rather makes it unsafe and potentially fatal. Audrey Diwan’s poignant adaptation of writer Annie Ernaux’s memoir about undergoing an illegal abortion as a 20-something woman in 1963, when abortion was still illegal in France, lends compelling imagery to this truism; the French director spares little in her harrowing depiction of a young woman’s quest to terminate her pregnancy. Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) hails from a working-class village, where her parents (Sandrine Bonnaire is notable as her mother) own a bar and wish better for their gifted daughter, who studies literature at a nearby university. Her future is jeopardized when she becomes pregnant; a disapproving doctor tricks her into taking medicine that only strengthens the embryo, and an attempt at aborting it herself proves futile. And that’s just the beginning. Anne contends not only with this physically torturous quagmire but also with suffering grades and isolation from her peers. Diwan charts her journey to the eventual abortionist’s makeshift clinic with aplomb, depicting the lengths people will go to in order to exert bodily autonomy. The no-holds-barred approach to the procedure and its aftermath is the kind of interpretation of real life that great cinema does best; one can only hope such empathy translates offscreen as well. R, 100 min.

Limited release in theaters

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