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In France, the Film ‘Happening’ Has Women Sharing Abortion Stories


PARIS — “Happening,” Audrey Diwan’s film a couple of Nineteen Sixties back-street abortion in France, isn’t for the fainthearted. In reality, audience members have fainted at several screenings, including on the Venice Film Festival last September, where it won the Golden Lion.

“It’s often men who say the experience took them to the limit of what they may bear,” Diwan said in a recent interview, “because that they had never imagined what it is perhaps like.”

While “Happening,” which will probably be released in america on May 6, has struck a chord with viewers worldwide, it has also fed into larger debates in France across the perception of abortion. The film is predicated on a real-life experience — that of the celebrated French writer Annie Ernaux, who chronicled her 1963 abortion in a book of the identical name, published in 2000. On the time, ending a pregnancy was illegal in France, and it will remain so until 1975.

Diwan, who’s 41, was born after the legalization of abortion. Unlike in america, the present law is under no immediate threat in France. Yet “Happening,” which goals for a way of immediacy onscreen, has led artists and activists to talk up concerning the taboo they feel still surrounds the procedure.

The deadline for French women who decide to end a pregnancy for nonmedical reasons is fairly restrictive. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, initially opposed a latest 14-week limit (up from 12 weeks) passed by the French Parliament in February. While he has said he would accept the brand new law, he said on the campaign trail in March that abortion was “at all times a tragedy for a girl.”

“There may be this constructed social shame that ladies are supposed to feel,” Diwan said, “and the sense that if we discuss it, we take the danger of calling into query this right, which ultimately is rarely assured.”

In response to “Happening,” last December, the French feminist magazine Causette devoted a canopy story to testimonies from 13 celebrities, under the title: “Yes, I Had An Abortion.” The writer Pauline Harmange, who rose to international prominence last 12 months together with her debut book “I Hate Men,” also published an essay in March about her own experience, “Avortée” (“Aborted”).

The essay, Harmange said, was “rather more difficult” to jot down than “I Hate Men.” In it she describes the pain and loneliness she felt after her abortion in 2018 — less due to the medical procedure, and more due to the societal expectation that ladies quickly move on. Yet Harmange, who staunchly supports women’s right to an abortion, frightened that sharing this may feed into anti-abortion discourse. (Minutes after she unveiled the essay on Instagram, Harmange added, a corporation opposing abortion reposted the announcement, twisting the words she had written.)

Diwan felt drawn to Ernaux’s “Happening” after she had ended a pregnancy. She had initially struggled to seek out stories to assist her process the experience, even starting to jot down a book herself as a way of filling that gap. When Harmange found an analogous void after her own abortion in 2018, she ended up reading works by American authors. “Since abortion is purported to be easier to access in France, there’s a way here that the issue has been solved,” she said.

That’s removed from the case, in response to researchers. The sociologist Marie Mathieu, who has studied abortion in France, said in an interview that “regional and social inequalities” restrict access to the procedure for girls. The constraints mean it’s also relatively common for girls to travel to the Netherlands or Spain, Mathieu said, to hunt later-term abortions — a journey that comes at a financial cost, and should itself be traumatic.

That reality is barely discussed within the French media, in response to Mathieu. “Abortion is at all times a problem abroad, or prior to now,” she said. “We rejoice over legalization in Ireland and deplore setbacks in other countries, but as a current issue in France, it ruffles feathers.”

Diwan said securing the budget to make a movie like “Happening” was removed from easy. “I kept hearing: ‘Why now? The law passed in France,’” she said. “We got enough to recreate the time period, barely.”

The lead actor, Anamaria Vartolomei, was unknown, and producers were frightened concerning the film’s box-office potential. Yet there have been other reasons for his or her lack of interest, Diwan said: “In several cases, we clearly felt that a few of them were anti-abortion.”

Even after working on “Happening” for 3 years, Diwan wasn’t sure she was able to talk publicly about her own abortion. She was only convinced to achieve this after Anna Mouglalis, who plays the film’s stern abortionist, mentioned her own during a news conference on the Venice Film Festival. Diwan said she realized “the vestiges of this shame still had an effect on me.”

Mouglalis, a well known French actor and girls’s rights activist who was one in every of the contributors to the Causette cover story, said in an interview that the role of the abortionist in “Happening” immediately felt vital to her. Abortion was a subject of conversation early on in her family, she said, because her maternal grandfather, a nurse, had performed it illegally to assist women.

Mouglalis did extensive research ahead of filming. She brought “a group of speculums” together with her on set, she said, after hunting down actual period instruments. Determining which of them were used on the time and the way took “a ridiculous amount of labor,” Diwan said, because illegal abortions are so rarely represented in media, they usually weren’t recorded.

The resulting scene in “Happening,” which was filmed in a single four-minute shot, isn’t exactly true to life, but Mouglalis’s gestures are fastidiously choreographed to approximate an actual procedure. “I desired to pay tribute to those women who still exist, all over the place,” she said, stating that in the various countries where the procedure is unlawful, abortions still happen.

The film’s suspense and sense of lingering fear derive from one central query: Will the people the primary character encounters, from doctors to her fellow university students, help or denounce her? The French law on the time was “awful,” Diwan said. “When you helped a lady who desired to have an illegal abortion, you possibly can go to jail. After I read concerning the challenges to Roe v. Wade in america, they echo this story strongly, because we’re talking concerning the exact same legal mechanisms.”

Sharing their stories of abortion, Diwan and Harmange each said, has been a liberating experience. “If you say ‘I had an abortion,’ you open the door to this sentence being repeated,” Diwan said. Since “Aborted” was released, Harmange has received plenty of messages — a few of them anonymous — from women who desired to share what it was like for them.

“The effect is one in every of care,” Harmange said, “and that’s what’s missing.”

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