“L’Événement”: a great film about clandestine abortion in the 1960s

It’s a film about violence against women. Legal violence. At the end of 1963, Annie Ernaux, future great writer, was 23 years old and continued her studies in literature in Rouen, when she fell pregnant with a young man who lived in Bordeaux. Pregnant ? He doesn’t care, as long as she can get rid of the fetus. In the terribly corseted France of the 1960s, twelve years before abortion, the pill does not exist and sexuality before marriage can make any young woman, student or worker, a slut, while all men , or almost don’t care a little, a lot.

“L’Événement”, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in September, a first for a French director since Agnès Varda and “Sans toit ni loi” in 1985, immerses us in Annie’s head ( Anamaria Vartolomei), followed in its race against the clock by very tight frames.

Audrey Diwan, co-writer of “Bac Nord”, manages to make “L’Événement” a film that is neither literary nor slow at all, with an efficiency that does not let you breathe, which is a challenge when you have read the story by Annie Ernaux, practically without dialogue, and which aggregates her memories of a student, her notebooks of the time, and the gaze of the woman she has become. Audrey Diwan, with the agreement of the novelist, did well to add a character – the university teacher, played by Pio Marmaï – and exchanges, in particular with the mother or the clandestine abortionist, played by Anna Mouglalis, unrecognizable.

A criminal offense

The book is overwhelming in its intensity and its accumulation of facts. The film is marked by this timing chanted on the screen – how many weeks pregnant – and this succession of walls that Annie takes in the head before succeeding in finding the loophole, the help, at the risk of to die. There is almost “Titanium” – the French Palme d’Or in Cannes – in certain scenes of “L’Événement”, except that the horror film here is true from A to Z when a woman tries to be abort with knitting needles.

Imagine that this was sometimes the life of our mothers, our grandmothers, freezes the blood. Keeping the child, for Annie without resources, the daughter of penniless small traders, “that would be the end of the world”. The end of her studies, social damnation, an existence as a daughter-mother as in a short story by Maupassant, at best as a submissive wife. It was that again, the 1960s, in France. The heroine’s absolute loneliness is astounding: these doctors, all men, who refuse any help, even indirect, out of moral or fear: abortion was a criminal offense.

Audrey Diwan has chosen to show everything, or almost. Because cinema is first and foremost images. To those who think she goes too far, we recommend Annie Ernaux’s story, as brief as it is immense, which further reveals the atrocity and dangers of this miscarriage caused at the limits of the possible and the human . The director also reduced the markers of the time to the essentials.

We recognize this still rural France with very marked social classes, but with enough universality to feel that, from Poland to Texas, the right of women to dispose of their bodies is still more than fragile. Even in France, where so many voices are still rising to claim to speak in place of those who, in their flesh, face this traumatic experience. “The Event” does not speak of death, but of life. The one Annie was able to write painfully but freely. Teacher, writer, mother, she will deliver her story almost in her sixties, in 2000.


“The Event”, by Audrey Diwan, with Anamaria Vartolomei, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Luana Bajrami, Sandrine Bonnaire, Anna Mouglalis… (1h40)

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“L’Événement”: a great film about clandestine abortion in the 1960s