Winner of the 2021 Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, writer-director Audrey Diwan’s unflinching and suspense-ridden It HappensThe story follows Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), the young, middle-class college student. She desperately attempts to obtain an illegal abortion so that she can continue her French studies in 1960s France.
This immersive film is sure to be compared to others about women who seek abortions in restrictive situations, like 4 Months (3 Weeks) and 2 Days (2 Days).And It’s not rare to find it sometimes. But the existence of these relatively recent, similarly-themed films lessens neither the urgency nor the vitality of Diwan’s soaring entry into the cinematic oeuvre centered on reproductive rights. It Happens On Friday, the U.S. will open its doors. This comes just days after the Supreme Court leaked a draft opinion that revealed the Supreme Court was reportedly looking at overturning the landmark abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade.
Adapted from the French writer Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel, It Happens isn’t just a timely and realistic look at the consequences of making abortion illegal—it is also a story about sexual freedom. Below Diwan shares her story about creating a period film that features current topics, the artistic process she used, and what kind of dialogue she hopes to have with TIME. It Happens.
How did you first get acquainted with author Annie Ernaux’s work and this novel?
After having an abortion, I wanted to learn more about the subject. I was recommended by a friend to read It Happens. The book surprised me with my knowledge. I was struck by my lack of knowledge about illegal and medicalized abortion. Are they going to help or turn you over to police? Is this person going to turn you over to the police or help? It’s more than suspense. It’s vital.
My thoughts kept turning to the beautiful young girl. [in the book]She speaks about her sexual pleasure and desire. It is something that I fully understand. Also, she talks about intellectual desires. It was my dream to create a film about freedom. This movie also featured illegal abortion. I was not like, “I’m going to do a political manifesto.” What is political in my work is this relationship to freedom.
Cultural judgments still exist around freedom and want, as well as a tendency for storytelling to reduce female love and sexual desire. It HappensThis is radical.
Desire is beautiful, I believe. I didn’t want the movie only to be about pain. There’s light. There is hope. They all want to protect. [their right to feel desire]Free for one-day [of]This is a social shame. If you are sexually free, society won’t accept that. This freedom will be punished by society. [banning] abortion. You are restricted in what you can do with your body.
This is not a piece for the modern era, but it does have some themes. There are still strict laws in place that prevent women from having an abortion.
What I was trying to do is not [being a] period piece. It is what’s left [the same]Today is silent. It’s stunning. These stories should be kept silent. Social shame is a real thing. Boys and men are raised thinking, that’s not our story. Women are also taught to think, and we shouldn’t talk about that.
So of course I wanted to make a story that can be seen as a nowadays story, because somewhere in the world, it’s always true. The United States would have been a perfect place for it to be when it was first published.
Given the increasing restrictions on abortion, what does this mean for you?
That is my hope. [everyone]You can break the silence and talk openly about this topic. Never once did I hear about illegal abortions. [really looks like]. People who opposed abortion visited my film in Italy and France. We had a good discussion afterwards. This is important.
Learn More It Happens A Timely, Grim Warning From 1960s France
Your film is intensely immersive; you favor long takes and don’t interrupt action very often. You can only take one shot to create the abortion scene at the center. This was a particularly difficult artistic challenge.
I don’t want any ideas to be too shortly told. If I ask Anamaria to show that she’s in pain, everybody’s going to get it really quickly. But that’s theoretical. If my sequence takes too long, it’s possible to feel what she feels. It becomes provocative.
Your approach is also very direct, particularly when it comes to showing your nudity. You’re not romanticizing her body, but instead showing us her vulnerability.
It was our intention to try and be her, but not her. She’s this young girl who partly discovers her body at the exact same time that she needs to hurt it.
What was your method of helping Anamaria Vartolomei prepare for the part and get into this mindset?
Before the shoot, we spent a lot of time discussing the meaning. Also, we worked together on inner monologue and silence. Whenever she’s silent, she has an obsessive idea in mind that you see on her face she’s [yearning]Send an email.
Your approach to men in this story, including the physicians, professors and romantic interest, is fascinating. They are not blatantly vilified, but you look at them like products of their times.
I don’t judge my characters. It was something they were taught from a young age. There aren’t many heroes in our society who can actually accept the idea that if they get caught, they’re going to end up in jail. It’s not that easy to judge. It is important to consider it carefully. Were we heroes? [in that situation]?
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