The recent legal abortion roadblocks in Texas, the Supreme Court’s refusal to overturn the restrictive new law, and the determination of US conservatives to continue to cut corners on Roe v. Wade font Event resonate all the more with force. Not that Audrey Diwan’s intensely intimate chronicle of a young woman’s struggle for control of her body requires recent headlines to make it relevant or captivating. A drama that is both brutal and measured, propelled by an astonishingly emotionally transparent performance by Anamaria Vartolomei, it is a slice of lucid French social realism that will have meaning for all those who care about personal freedoms.
Diwan and his co-writer Marcia Romano adapted the screenplay for Annie Ernaux’s 2000 autobiographical novel, diving directly into the world of the central character with a style that reflects the author’s voice. The sensitive subject is illuminated by a concise and direct treatment, often quite graphic and embellished with precise details which immerse you in the atmosphere of the time – regional France in 1963.
The bottom line
Heartbreaking, urgent and heroic in its understated way.
Annie (Vartolomei), Hélène (Luàna Bajrami) and Brigitte (Louise Orry-Diquéro), college roommates studying literature in Angoulême in the southwest of the country, talk about their room, which is getting ready for a local ball. But from the minute they arrive, it’s clear that desire, even for these women in their early twenties, is strictly the preserve of men, and a chorus of mean, serious girls are always ready to shame transgressors. Annie is pretty much the only one who looks comfortable enough to even talk to guys.
With subtlety and economy, the scenario of Diwan and Romano, as well as the work of their infallibly naturalistic actors, express how much sex is taboo for young unmarried women in this puritanical climate. Yet when Annie discovers – three weeks after a clandestine meeting with a visiting student from Bordeaux – that she is pregnant, it is less the certainty of humiliation and disgrace than the instantaneous shrinking of her future that terrifies her. Continuing her education to become a teacher, which is her goal at this time, would be impossible as a single mother.
The doctor who confirms her pregnancy (Fabrizio Rongione) is not insensitive to her dilemma. But he urges her not to even talk about abortion – the word itself is never uttered in the film – given the rigid laws against it, the threat of imprisonment, and the extreme health risks. to do so illegally. During the fourth week of her pregnancy, Annie sees another doctor (François Loriquet), who cheats on her by prescribing a drug that, according to him, will cause her periods but will instead strengthen the embryo.
The extent to which Annie is alone in all of this is evident whenever she asks for help. Thinking that her classmate Jean (Kacey Mottet Klein) is a ladies’ man and may know where to have an abortion, she asks him for advice. Instead, he opportunistically flirts with her, asking her where the harm is since she is already pregnant. Her best friend, Brigitte – so eager for sexual experiences that she has studied her brother’s porn hiding place to find out more and shamelessly demonstrates her masturbation technique for Annie and Hélène – gets icy and tense the minute she learns Annie’s condition, telling her that she is alone.
When Annie goes to the baby’s father (Julien Frison) and informs him of his wish to terminate the pregnancy, he is embarrassed by his abrasive behavior in front of his candle friends and, after an argument, virtually abdicates all responsibility. As the weeks go by and the window for decisive action begins to close, Annie is more and more isolated. She is unable to confide in her stoic but worried mother (Sandrine Bonnaire) – a hard worker who runs a modest bar, she represents a life from which Annie wants to escape – or to the teacher (Pio Marmaï) whose high hopes for her dissolve in it the notes begin to drop.
Turning into the square ratio of the Academy, cinematographer Laurent Tangy stays close to the protagonist throughout, looking for signs of surrender on his face even though his determination never falters. “I would like a child someday, but not in the place of a lifetime,” she told Rongione’s doctor on a second visit, during which he was visibly nervous about the legal and professional repercussions to which he might be faced.
Vartolomei’s performance is as much defined by the panic in Annie’s eyes and her movements as by the anger bubbling just under her skin over her lack of choice, a state that echoes in the increasingly agitated sounds of the score of Evgueni and Sacha Galperine. The tension of having to keep her problem a secret and suppress her fears is indicated in each of her reactions.
Focusing as much on Annie’s turbulent emotional state as on the drastic measures she is forced to take, Diwan turns the film into a psychological thriller in which the protagonist is engaged in a fight even with his own body, this who turns out to be a tough opponent. A number of still scenes – physically explicit although shot with sensitivity and restraint – are quite scary. But the film never sensationalizes Annie’s odyssey for dramatic effect.
When she is finally directed, in a low voice, to an illegal abortionist who can perform the procedure, the inspired cast in this almost unrecognizable role of Anna Mouglalis makes these tense scenes quite distinctive. Even though the excruciating pain manifests itself on Annie’s face and in her agonized cries, the ordeal almost becomes an out-of-body experience. The sculptural Mouglalis has an androgynous look to match her deep, husky voice, and Diwan skillfully uses these qualities to suggest an otherworldly space inside the Abortionist’s apartment, where silence is imperative behind. walls as thin as paper. But the developments that ensue bring reality down with alarming force, even though the film stands out for its predominantly solemnity.
Event is often a tough, compassionate but brutally honest watch, and almost gasping in its chronicle of a struggle that has evidently remained with the author for decades. Diwan’s choice to emphasize the conventional traps of the period quietly underscores the seriousness with which she links the past to the precarious present – with abortion still illegal in many countries and under persistent threat in others. The film serves as both a heartbreaking drama and an urgent reminder of the need to protect women’s reproductive rights.