Director Audrey Diwan won the Golden Lion in Venice with a harrowing and harsh film about a young woman determined to terminate her pregnancy in 1963 France, based on the autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux
“I’m pregnant. And I want to continue studying », the protagonist of ‘The event’ releases to her gynecologist. We are in provincial France in 1963. Abortion is a crime that puts those who practice it and the women who submit to it in jail (the Veil law would not decriminalize it until 1975, three years after the methods were legal). contraceptives). Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) knows that having a child is equivalent to becoming a single mother and a housewife. Her unwanted baby would put an end to professional independence. And although she risks her freedom and her life, she is willing to end her pregnancy at any cost.
Winner of the Golden Lion at the last Venice Film Festival, the second feature film by Audrey Diwan, which hits Spanish cinemas this weekend, is based on the autobiographical novel by the French writer Annie Ernaux, published a couple of years ago in our country by Tusquets. In 1963, when Ernaux was studying Philology in Rouen, she discovered that she was pregnant. From the first moment she had no doubt that she did not want to have that child. Diwan follows the gestation process of the protagonist until she undergoes a clandestine abortion. Cinema has never shown such an intervention with such crudeness and truthfulness.
‘The event’ starts in the hall of residence in which the protagonist and her two companions adjust their bras to increase their chest and shorten their skirts before going out to party. Anne is a brilliant and diligent student, perfectly aware that the university that her parents pay with effort is the only way out to escape from the bar they run. She hasn’t had her period for several weeks. So her run-in with a guy from another college might have unintended consequences. There is no guilt complex in a woman who wants to enjoy her sexuality, but rather urgency first and terror later.
Audrey Diwan’s camera is glued to the protagonist at all times, who constantly washes her face and looks at herself in the mirror, as if she wanted to sweep an impurity from her body. More than a drama, ‘The Event’ works as a suspense thriller and even a horror film. Added to the tension of hiding her pregnancy is the risk of committing something forbidden. Rich French girls of the time could safely go to Holland to have an abortion, in the same way that Spanish girls traveled to London. This is a very hard, chilling film, with terrible images, such as Anne’s attempted abortion by inserting a knitting needle through her vagina or the final scenes, never seen in a fiction film.
“Audrey Diwan had the courage to show abortion in all its brutal reality: knitting needles, a catheter inserted into the uterus by an abortionist…” praises the writer Annie Ernaux. “These disturbing images make us understand the horrors that were perpetrated on women’s bodies and what it would mean to step back.” For her part, Audrey Diwan was impressed by Ernaux’s book “the dichotomy between the trite formula: clandestine abortion and the concrete reality of the procedure.” «The first thing I thought about was the body of that young woman, what she must have suffered since she knew she was pregnant. And the dilemma she faced: risk her life and have an abortion, or have the baby and sacrifice her future. Body or mind. I wouldn’t have liked to have to choose.”
‘The event’ brings us closer to a woman who is observed, persecuted and judged in a classist universe. And she gets us to empathize with her absolute loneliness, because she does not find support in men, in her companions or in her family. “Abortion is not the only theme in the film,” agrees the director. “My protagonist is a social renegade. She comes from a working class family and she is the first to go to college. The atmosphere of the faculty is more bourgeois, with stricter codes and morals. Anne jumps from one world to another as she harbors a secret that could end all hope for her.”
Anamaria Vartolomei and Sandrine Bonnaire, mother and daughter in ‘The Event’.
Several spectators at the last Seminci in Valladolid were absent during the screening of ‘The Event’ and a woman had to be treated after she felt dizzy at the climax of the film. “I didn’t want to provoke. But it seemed essential to me not to look away in those moments, ”says Audrey Diwan. “Above all, I wanted to shoot from start to finish, without cuts. I refused to film theoretical sequences that explain what the protagonist is going through, without experiencing it ourselves.
Nothing is left over or missing in a film shot in a square screen format, in order to isolate the claustrophobic microcosm of the protagonist. One would have to refer to the Romanian Christian Mungiu and his masterpiece ‘4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days’ to find such a shocking story, although in this case the word “abortion” is not said at any point in the footage. The political dimension of this distressing feature film is clear at a time when in some places, such as the states of Texas and Idaho, the right to interrupt pregnancy is once again being questioned. Annie Ernaux writes in ‘The Event’: «Although I knew from the Ogino calendar that I was in a period of risk, I did not believe that ‘it could take root’ inside my womb. In everything related to love and enjoyment, it did not seem to me that my body was intrinsically different from that of men.
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