Happening ★★★½

Great face cinema, each frame filled with eyes or shoulders or heads stacked one after the other in the frame*. Happening has a distinctly Dardennes-esque flavor to it, as Anne walks briskly from confidant to confidant subtly implying her need for an abortion and then getting coldly rebuked, while the camera stays planted over her shoulder and on her face, every shot tightly oriented around her physical presence. While that omnipresent over-the-shoulder POV gives it the same empathy-generation qualities as the brothers' work, there's an extra layer here; Happening is a film of the mind about the body's betrayals (or more accurately about the betrayals forced on the body when one's society doesn't give one full control over their body), and through all of the tense, all-subtext conversations Anne initiates in the film she's always there, physically before us, the frame not just her POV but her POV crowded by her body, cramping and limiting what we see just as it cramps and limits Anne's options**. Notable, too, that it's almost always her shoulders and face and rarely her lower half, her stomach cut almost completely from the film, such that any growth in it is entirely in our minds yet terrifyingly present for Anne, emphasizing the disconnect between what she really wants and the fetus gestating inside her. Happening's plot largely moves how one expects it to but it mostly avoids the political-art trap of getting too explicit, a film that makes its points entirely through what happens in its nervy present-tense***. It's a drama that bristles like a thriller, a haunting evocation of the traps that coil around women in societies where pregnancy is a forced condition and help can only be whispered of.

*I always forget how much I enjoy seeing films like this in theaters; there's something deeply satisfying about studying well-shot human faces the size of a wall.

**Good use, too, of the 4:3 aspect ratio, which adds immensely to the claustrophobia.

***Excepting a couple scenes where Anne gets explicit about her pro-choice stance with a physician, scenes I understand the point of but could do without.

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