by Rob DiCristino
“Everyone here wants the same thing,” says Anne (Anamarie Vartolomei) as she surveys a college party. “They’re just too afraid to admit it.” And she’s right! Young adult life is defined by abject, debilitating horniness. These kids in early-1960s France can’t indulge those impulses, at least not yet, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t dispense with some of society’s more puritanical behavioral standards if they wanted it enough. Isn’t it okay to want? Anne certainly wants quite a bit: A university education, a career as a writer, and, hell, maybe a lover or two. But to Anne and her peers, pregnancy is a social landmine, an “illness that turns women into housewives.” Birth control of any kind is completely off the table, and abortion is so illegal that even its mention comes with stern warnings in hushed tones. So, despite all temptation, Anne and her friends will study hard and focus on their exams. Anne refuses to settle for the blue-collar life her parents led. She will define her own path with the strength and tenacity that brought her this far. But still, she wants.
Happening is a superb and uncompromising portrait of those challenges, some so maddening that they’ll leave you wondering how Anne overcame the urge to feed every sanctimonious doctor and gossipy co-ed into a woodchipper. One physician encourages her to accept her mistake and make the best of it. Another lies to her about a treatment he’s prescribing, which will actually strengthen the embryo rather than eliminate it. When Anne confides in her friend Jean (Kacey Mottet Klein), hoping his reputation for romance has yielded connections in this arena, he takes it as an invitation for consequence-free sex. Hunky firefighter Maxime (Julien Frison) is useless, as well; his only concern is ensuring his friends don’t find out he got Anne pregnant. When she finally does undergo an abortion — which she pays for by selling books and other personal items — it doesn’t take, which forces her to undergo a second procedure that nearly kills her. And still, the most upsetting thing about Happening is that Anne must do all this entirely on her own.
Happening is in select theaters now.