Happening ★★★★

In keeping with her protagonist's literary ambitions, Diwan frames her quest for an illegal abortion as an Odyssean journey, complete with clearly demarcated trials and rites of passage, plenty of metaphorical sirens, and, shepherded by a hauntingly imposing Anna Mouglalis (that voice!), a harrowing trip to the underworld that is in equal parts liberating and horrifying.

Storytelling aside, I'm also very taken with Diwan's approach to staging, favouring claustrophobic close-ups and a surgically piercing camera gaze over showing off nostalgic period detail, making Annie's ordeal viscerally palpable. (In fact, Laurent Tangy's cinematography repeatedly recalls Hélène Louvart's work on Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which makes me wonder whether this visual approach to abortion-themed films is becoming conventionalised.)

Moreover, the lack of lavish set-dressing, while obviously due to the nature of the story (there's absolutely no romanticising the past here), also suggests a political edge: by stripping the material of as many period-piece trappings as possible, Diwan underscores the unfortunate fact that Happening could not be more topical.

Finally, three cheers for Anamaria Vartolomei's extraordinary performance, which fully deserved its César win for Most Promising Actress. Hard to pick a favourite scene that showcases how good this turn is, but there are two moments towards the end that do stand out: the first one is Annie's climactic encounter with Mouglalis, which manages to build an almost unbearable tension through its unconventional camera angle and Vartolomei's vocal performance alone. The second one is where she just about makes it to the toilet: again, the mercilessly revealing camerawork adds a lot to the scene, but Vartolomei's multi-faceted facial expressions, especially her wide-open eyes that form a startling contrast to the controlled stares we've grown accustomed to up to that point, really make that moment.

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