Review: ‘Happening’ (2021), starring Anamaria Vartolomei

May 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Anamaria Vartolomei in “Happening” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Happening” (2021)

Directed by Audrey Diwan

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in France, in 1963, the dramatic film “Happening” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A literature student, who is close to graduating from college, experiences an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, and she becomes increasingly desperate to get an abortion, which was illegal in France at the time.

Culture Audience: “Happening” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in realistic movies about what women with unwanted pregnancies often have to go through when it is illegal to get an abortion.

Louise Orry-Diquero, Luàna Bajrami and Anamaria Vartolomei in “Happening” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Based on a true story, the realistic drama “Happening” shows without judgment what a college student in 1963 France experienced when she wanted to terminate an unplanned pregnancy, at a time when abortion was illegal in France. It’s not a movie that takes sides in the abortion debate, but it does show that people can look at the same story and have different views of who gets to decide which life is interrupted when a pregnant woman wants to terminate her pregnancy. Although the protagonist of “Happening” grows increasingly desperate to have an abortion, the movie admirably does not put forth the usual melodramatic hysterics that are often in dramas with the same subject matter.

Directed by Audrey Diwan, “Happening” is based on Annie Ernaux’s 2001 novel of the same name. Although the “Happening” book is a work of fiction, it’s inspired by Ernaux’s real-life experiences of when she had an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy when she was a college student in the early 1960s in France. Diwan and Marcia Romano co-wrote the adapted “Happening” screenplay. “Happening” won the Golden Lion Award (the top prize) at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival.

“Happening” (which takes place in 1963 in an unnamed part of France) begins with three university roommates/best friends getting ready for a carefree night out at a local pub. All three pals attend Cité Universitaire and live on campus. Anne Duchesne (played by Anamaria Vartolomei) is the most independent and ambitious of these three pals. She’s a literature major at who is very intelligent and who excels in her literature classes. Anne, who is 22 and will turn 23 on September 1, is in her last year of studies before she graduates.

Anne’s two roommates/best friends at the school are extroverted Brigitte (played by Louise Orry-Diquéro) and introverted Hélène (played by Luàna Bajrami), who have immense admiration and loyalty to Anne, because they think she’s the smartest and emotionally strongest out of all three of them. Anne is loyal to her friends too, but she’s more guarded about what she tells them about her love life. On this particular night, the three friends aren’t thinking about much except going to the pub to dance, drink alcohol, and possibly meet some men they might want to date.

At the bar, Anne shows that she’s not willing to go with any man who pays attention to her. A guy tries some pickup lines on her, and she just walks away. One of the other people at the bar is her closest male friend Jean (played by Kacey Mottet-Klein), so she goes over to talk to Jean after she rejects this potential suitor. For the rest of the night, Anne is content to just spend time dancing with her friends.

Life won’t be so lighthearted for Anne when she goes for a routine visit with her gynecologist, Dr. Ravinsky (played by Fabrizio Rongione), who asks her if she’s had sex in the past month. Anne knows that she has missed her latest menstrual period, but she says hasn’t had sex in this time period. The doctor knows that she’s lying, because he then drops bombshell news on her: Anne is four weeks pregnant.

Anne tells the doctor that she doesn’t want to be pregnant. She pleads with Dr. Ravinsky to “do something.” However, the doctor refuses because he says that he could lose his medical license for performing or being involved with an illegal abortion. The rest of the movie chronicles Anne’s journey as she tries to terminate her pregnancy.

Over the course of the movie, viewers find out who else Anne tells about her secretive pregnancy. Anne also shows that she’s not the self-pitying type and has a lot of pride about solving her own problems. There comes a point when someone offers to give her money for an abortion, but Anne refuses this offer and instead decides to sell many of her possessions to get the money.

“Happening” also has an unflinching portrayal of the emotional and physical toll that this unwanted pregnancy takes on Anne. Her grades start to suffer. She has problems sleeping and eating. And, not surprisingly, when she can’t find a doctor to give her an abortion, she looks into more dangerous options. “Happening” also prefaces scenes with captions showing how many weeks Anne is pregnant, thereby increasing the tension in seeing what’s going to happen next.

The movie also shows the realities that although men often like to dictate what women and girls should do about unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, these women and girls (especially those who don’t have partners) are often really on their own. And they frequently get shamed by people (of any gender) for having unwanted pregnancies, while the men who get the women or girls pregnant are not judged as harshly. This shaming happens to Anne. It comes from catty female students, who see her in a public shower and call her a “loose woman” because they notice that she looks pregnant.

And it also comes from people whom Anne thinks are supposed to help her. During another appointment with Dr. Ravinsky, Anne explains why she’s not ready to become a mother at this time in her life: “I’d like a child one day, but not instead of a life [of my own]. I could hate the kid for it.” Dr. Ravinsky then tells her in a condescending tone to go through with the pregnancy: “Accept it. You have no choice.” Anne doesn’t believe that she has “no choice.”

Anne experiences paranoia and mistrust, because she is at risk of being arrested if she gets caught having an abortion or trying to get an abortion. She finds a medical professional in the phone book named Dr. Guimet (played by François Lorique), who seems willing to help her, but then he tells Anne how much he charges for medication to induce a miscarriage. What Anne experiences with Dr. Guimet is an example of how licensed medical professionals can take advantage of pregnant women and girls who are desperate to terminate their pregnancies.

By showing Anne’s pregnancy journey, “Happening” starkly presents the question: “When a man gets a woman pregnant and doesn’t want the child either, how much should he get involved with what the woman should do about the pregnancy?” There are no easy answers, of course, because a lot depends on the circumstances and the people.

The father of Anne’s child isn’t revealed until about halfway through the movie. His name is Maxime (played by Julien Frison of the Comédie-Française), a political science student whom Anne met at a bookstore while he was visiting from Bordeaux. Anne’s pregnancy is a result of her and Maxime’s brief fling. Maxime’s reaction to this pregnancy news is exactly what most people might expect from a college student who doesn’t think he’s ready to become a parent. However, Maxime is hurt and confused that Anne didn’t tell him sooner, because he thinks he should’ve had a say in her decision.

Vartolomei’s performance as Anne makes this movie worth watching because it’s riveting in all of its nuances. (It’s easy to see why Vartolomei won the Best Female Newcomer prize at the 2022 César Awards, which is the French version of the Academy Awards.) Anne has a quiet determination to do what she thinks needs to be done while she tries to hold on to some dignity in a system that often tries to make her feel powerless and demeaned. Perhaps as a way to deal with the stress, Anne sometimes acts like she wants to forget that she’s pregnant. But she can’t ignore her pregnancy, and her decision about what to do leads her down a path that’s terrifying for her.

“Happening” is not an easy movie to watch in the scenes where Anne’s desperation leads her to do some extreme things. Abortion has been a divisive political issue, but what most people can agree on is that it’s also an important health issue. “Happening” shows that whether abortion is legal or not, a decision on what to do about an unwanted pregnancy comes with an emotional cost that cannot be regulated by any laws.

IFC Films released “Happening” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on June 21, 2022. “Happening” was released in France and other countries in Europe in 2021.

Review: ‘Azor,’ starring Fabrizio Rongione, Juan Pablo Geretto, Stéphanie Cléau and Ignacio Vila

December 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Juan Pablo Geretto and Fabrizio Rongione in “Azor” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“Azor”

Directed by Andreas Fontana

Spanish and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Argentina in 1980, the dramatic film “Azor” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Swiss banker encounters mystery and controversy when he arrives in a politically chaotic Argentina after a banker colleague disappears.

Culture Audience: “Azor” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching “slow burn” movies about international politics and financial dealings.

Fabrizio Rongione in “Azor” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“Azor” requires patience in getting to the bottom of the mystery presented in the film. It’s a dialogue-heavy drama about a Swiss banker who travels to Argentina when one of his business partners has disappeared. The story unfolds at a pace that might be too slow for some viewers, but it should hold the interest of viewers who are intrigued by how the worlds of politics and finance are intertwined.

Swiss filmmaker Andreas Fontana makes an assured feature-film directorial debut with “Azor,” which he co-wrote with Argentinian filmmaker/actor Mariano Llinás. This international collaboration on the screenplay serves the movie well, which shows how a Swiss banker navigates his visit to Argentina in 1980, during a politically volatile period in Argentina’s history. In 1980, Argentina was under a military dictatorship.

Under these circumstances, Swiss banker Yvan de Wiel (played by Fabrizio Rongione) has traveled from Geneva, Switzerland, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his wife, Inès de Wiel (played by Stéphanie Cléau), because of an urgent matter: Yvan’s business partner René Keys (played by Alain Gegenschatz) has disappeared. René also happens to be Inès’ cousin, but she tells Yvan that she doesn’t know where René is or when he’ll be coming back.

Yvan and René are among the owners of a private financial institution called Keys Lamar De Wiel Bank. Yvan inherited his share of the bank from his grandfather. There are part of “Azor” that show how Yvan has some insecurities about being perceived as an unqualified heir—someone who’s in this privileged banking position not because he earned it but because he happened to be born into the right family.

Much of “Azor” is about Yvan finding out that René left behind a mess of disgruntled customers and alienation among business colleagues. Yvan has to give apologies on behalf of René. Yvan even tells a client that René’s “attitude is deplorable.” Mr. Decôme (played by Gilles Privat), a former partner of the bank and a good friend of Yvan’s father, describes René as “brilliant” but “toxic” and someone who “lost his mind.”

Did René voluntarily disappear or did he run into foul play? Yvan starts to find some clues in René’s appointment book. He also gets some clues a collegaue named Dekerman (played by Juan Pablo Geretto), who gives Yvan some gossipy inside information about which clients might or might not be the most upset with René.

And he discovers that even though René wasn’t very well-liked by some business colleagues in Argentina, René had his share of fans. One of them is an elderly woman named Viuda Lacrosteguy (played by Carmen Iriondo), who tells Yvan that she and René had such a friendly rapport with each other, they’d play a game: She would start to a sing a song, and René would finish it.

Another admirer of René’s is a horse enthusiast named Anibal Farrell (played by Ignacio Vila), whom Yvan thinks is a difficult client. Anibal is such a fan of René’s, Dekerman describes Anibal’s attitude about René as being “like the drug addict who sucks the dealer’s cock.” This crude language in a world of elite bankers, ambassadors and society people is the first indication that things in this world might not be so genteel at first glance.

Yvan gets deeper and deeper into the a web of intrigue that eventually leads him to a clergyman named Monseigneur Tatoski (played by Pablo Torre Nilson), who is heavily involved in international politics. Although some scenes in “Azor” take place in an Argentinian jungle, much of the movie consists of conversations in lavish homes or corporate offices.

None of the acting is particularly outstanding, but Rongione does a capable job of keeping viewers guessing about the character of Yvan and how far he’s willing to go in his quest. The word “azor” is Spanish for “goshawk,” a bird that is defined by its keen ability to observe before attacking its prey. At one point in the movie, it’s mentioned that “azor” means “Be quiet and be careful what you say.” The film will keep people guessing up until a certain point about who’s the observant predator and who’s the unwitting prey.

Because “Azor” is a very talkative film, it might bore viewers who are expecting more physical action in this story. “Azor” is also not an appealing movie for people who don’t care about behind-the-scenes machinations of bankers and politicians. If viewers decide to stick with the movie and watch it to the very end, they’ll find some surprises proving that initial impressions aren’t always the correct impressions.

MUBI released “Azor” in select U.S. cinemas on September 10, 2021. The movie premiered on the MUBI streaming service on December 3, 2021.

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