The French abortion drama might be the scariest film you see all year.
Based on a true story, Happening (or, the less Mark Wahlberg adjacent, L’événement) tells the story of a young French student, Anne, in 1963. She’s a bright young student who goes out for a night on the town, and gets pregnant. Everything in the film up until this point is a tender, coming of age story. Everything after is a thriller with more stomach churning moments than most slasher films.
In 1960’s France, abortion is illegal. This means that Anne cannot turn to anyone without serious repercussions. Quickly, her world narrows, as she can only depend on herself to either find a risky back-alley abortionist, or, even worse, do it herself.
In recent years, I’ve had to get a few cavities filled. As anyone knows, it’s a minor procedure, with almost no complications. However this minor dental work has left me with radically different results based on the doctor. I now have a tooth that is randomly sensitive because I went with a dentist I did not fully know.
That was for a fucking tooth.
Happening is about the real life scenario of having someone you have never met, who operates in a murky black market, operate on the most sensitive part of your body in a life or death operation. Every moment of this film drips with such heavy real life stakes that it becomes hard to watch it and not feel like you’re watching a real life horror snuff film about something you were never meant to see.
It reminds you that horror does not require makeup or monsters. It only requires the fear of losing something you can never get back, of maiming oneself beyond repair.
It’s almost impossible to watch this film without thinking of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, the Christian Mungiu film about a pair of women trying to get a back-alley abortion Romania in the late 80’s. Happening is not exactly of the caliber of that film, as Mungiu’s small art house film might be the best film of the new century. But it expresses the same feeling through the same language.
In a conversation with a friend about the film Loro, loosely based on the lifestyle of disgraced Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi, he gave an unique perspective on the film excess. Loro is swamped with scenes of parties and orgies that go on and one and seem to repeat themselves ad nauseam. “That was the point”, my friend noted. You are not meant to be titillated by the sex and wealth. It’s meant to sicken you, to leave you exhausted.
Happening achieves that same effect, there is so much white-knuckle tension in this film. And it ends suddenly, almost abruptly. It left me puzzled. Why? What was the point of all the struggle before? Why did it feel so meaningless? Because it is meaningless. The whole drama, the whole series of trials that Anne must go through are a made-up social constructs.
This film comes out as the leaked documents revealing conservative efforts to repeal Roe v. Wade emerge. And it captures that same feeling. The raging, frustrated question of “why?” What is the end benefit of all this? Anne’s struggles are real, but their circumstances are manufactured by a patriarchal society designed to control her desires and sexuality. There is no film that better captures the baffling world we find ourselves in.