Why ‘Happening’ Director Didn’t Want the Abortion Drama to Feel Like Historical Piece (Video)

Sundance 2022: Audrey Diwan’s new film centers on a young woman’s desire to end her pregnancy in 1960s France

From “Call Jane” to “The Janes,” this year’s Sundance lineup is shining a spotlight on reproductive rights, reflecting a national moment in which the right to choose is increasingly under attack.

With “Happening” (“L’evenement”), writer-director Audrey Diwan adds an international dimension to the conversation. Based on Annie Ernaux’s novel, the film explores how anti-choice policies manifest on a profoundly personal level.

The film centers on Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), an intelligent young student living in 1960s France, where abortion is strictly prohibited. When she discovers that she’s pregnant, she must navigate a series of difficult choices to avoid social alienation and remain in school.

“When I discovered the book, it was soon after having an abortion, and I realized the huge gap between this legalized, medicalized process and the illegal abortions,” Diwan told Sharon Waxman at TheWrap’s virtual Sundance studio.

“I thought I knew what it was, and I didn’t. The reality’s way more tough and complicated and the loneliness of the character moved me.”

Although the story speaks to a situation faced by scores of people living under anti-choice governments, Diwan knew from the beginning that she wanted to take an individual approach. 

“I decided that I would not make a piece only on illegal abortion, but more about this particular character, the way she wants to be free, the way she wants to have sexual pleasure and do some studies,” she explained.

Star Anamaria Vartolomei noted that the many injustices her character endures fueled her performance. “I felt the reality was so violent that it nourished in me a certain anger,” she said. “I put myself in the place of this young lady that still exists today because it’s still [the reality] in some countries [and] states.”

Added Diwan: “When I started writing the script, everybody would tell me in France, ‘Why do you want to do it now?’”

Diwan was en route to the Venice Film Festival, where “Happening” first premiered, when she learned that a law had been introduced to the Polish parliament proposing abortions be declared homicides with criminal penalties against women who sought to terminate a pregnancy at any stage.

With the issue of reproductive rights making headlines around the world, Diwan approached the film as an “intimate thriller,” rather than an historical drama.

“There is always somewhere in the world where the law is changing, and not for the better,” she said. “That was one of the reasons I didn’t want to make a period piece, but a movie where you can actually feel second after second what is going on and live it as if you were in the ’60s, now, considering the fact of the world we’re in, it’s always the same matter in a way.”

TheWrap’s Sundance Studio is presented by NFP and National Geographic Documentary Films.