The events that have taken place in the United States in recent days are an opportunity to remember that in the cinema, too, screenwriters and filmmakers campaign and testify, today as yesterday, by depicting stories of women sacrificed on the altar of respect for life as some call it. Instrumentalized since the dawn of time, women’s bodies are still considered the property of everyone today. Abortion, an issue which, beyond the political aspect, raises many more questions than the right to life itself. In 5 films to see or see again, a spotlight on women and their fight, still and always relevant.
5 – “A Women’s Affair” (1988)
In 1988, Claude Chabrol brought to the big screen Francis Szpiner’s book, “A Women’s Affair”, inspired by the true story of Marie-Louise Giraud, guillotined for having performed several abortions in the 1940s. In fiction, the latter is named Marie Latour and is embodied by Isabelle Huppert. Mother of two toddlers under the Vichy regime, a housewife whose husband went to the front, but with whom she adapts very well, Marie dreams of glory, of becoming a singer, and of gaining her independence.
After helping a neighbor successfully abort, Marie becomes an angel maker. This activity quickly earns him enough to live comfortably. In the process, she becomes friends with a prostitute, rents her a room for the lustful activities of the latter and takes a lover. All this will lead Marie to her downfall when her husband, exasperated by his wife’s behavior, reports her to the police. Imprisoned, Marie will be executed for having performed more than 20 abortions.
In “A Women’s Affair”, Claude Chabrol highlights the woman from all angles. Both mothers, friends, lovers, women must be on all fronts, alone with the weight of responsibilities at the end of the day. And even if it means suffering, even dying, that’s not the most important thing, as long as their bodies are theirs again.
And the film even exposes certain taboos: having children, but not loving them, feeling dispossessed of one’s own body which is at the service of all. Carried by a cast composed in particular ofIsabelle Huppert, François Cluzet or Marie Trintignant“A Women’s Affair” depicts not only the story of one woman, but of all women, their thirst for independence and their desire for emancipation.
4 – “4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days” (2007)
In Romania, just before the communist regime was overthrown, Ottila and Gabita are two students and roommates in a university residence. Gabita is pregnant and wants an abortion, Ottila is going to help her in her business. The two young women call on a man, an angel maker who, to carry out the procedure and as payment, asks the young women to sleep with him. In desperation, the two friends comply. After this event, nothing will be like before.
Realized by Christian Mungiu“4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days”, Palme d’Or at the 60th Cannes Film Festival, sets its story in Ceausescu’s Romania, where citizens have very little freedom and where abortion is prohibited. .
The heavy atmosphere of the film and its lengths reflect the oppression suffered by the inhabitants of this totalitarian state and the violence endured by women who, even to be able to have an abortion, must dispossess themselves of their bodies. In this disturbing feature film, even uncomfortable at times, Christian Mungiu underlines the battle of women, their unshakeable will to preserve their free will despite the physical and repressive risks incurred. And in adversity, the Romanian director brings up the theme of sisterhood, or when a woman sacrifices her whole being for a friend.
3 – “That Sea Ley” (2019)
They are women of all generations and all social strata who wear the green scarf, a sign of rallying to a cause: the fight for the decriminalization of voluntary pregnancy intervention. In 2018, in Argentina, while abortion is still illegal, a bill to legalize abortion is hotly debated in the ranks of the Senate for 8 weeks.
The debate reaches the streets where thousands of fighters for the freedom of choice descend so that this basic right to dispose of one’s own body is recognized. Faced with activists in favor of the right to abortion, the “pro-lifers”, posing as benefactors and guarantors of life, base their arguments on the hypocrisy and contradictions of an entire system where ecclesiastical power is preponderant. .
Selected out of competition at Cannes in 2019, “Que sea Ley” offers an immersion in the fight of green scarves. Its director Juan Solanas shines a spotlight on the fundamental questions posed in this burning and dividing debate in Argentine society, as in other countries around the world.
Thanks to this documentary film, Solanas bears witness to the aberrations of Argentine politics and the path that remains to be traveled before women can assert their free will and finally dispose of what belongs to them.
2 – “Never rarely sometimes always” (2020)
In a desolate Pennsylvania town, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) lives in a hostile family atmosphere. A troubled love life, the teenager does not have many people to turn to. So, when she thinks she’s gotten pregnant, she goes alone to the local family planning office. On the spot, the “pro-life” discourse that is served to her leaves the young girl with few alternatives. With his cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), the young girl heads off to New York, where she can undergo pregnancy surgery without parental consent being required.
Presented at the Sundance Festival in 2020, and winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlinale the same year, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a steep dive into popular America refractory to the free will of women. The director and screenwriter Eliza Hitman gives us an appointment in the depths of America where young people come up against harassment and abuse.
And if the central subject of the film is abortion and the question of free choice, solidarity between women is also a recurring theme in the story. Through the eyes of the two protagonists just out of childhood, the film gets rid of the superfluous and modestly draws the outlines of a beautiful friendship deprived of all judgment, a formidable example of courage and support in a world full of aberrations.
1 – “The Event” (2021)
Ambitious and brilliant student of letters, Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) sees her plans stopped dead when she learns that she is pregnant. She refuses to continue this pregnancy which would jeopardize all her career plans, she wants to have an abortion. While the law on the decriminalization of abortion has not yet come into force, and no one is giving her the help she so badly needs, the young woman is forced to turn underground. A chaotic and painful journey to abort. A putting in danger of her life to regain her freedom, to assert her free will, and to dispose of her body as she sees fit.
The French director Audrey Diwan adapts the eponymous autobiographical novel byAnnie Ernaux released in 2000. “The Event” is an immersive dive into the career of Anne, a young student claiming her freedom of choice. Filmed in a square format that allows a sometimes disturbing closeness to the characters, the feature film not only deals with abortion as such, but also deals with female sexuality and desire in a period when women are not thought only through its function of procreation.
Kacey Mottet-Klein, Luana Bajrami, Sandrine Bonnaire, Anna Mouglalis and Pio Marmai share the poster of this film that is both moving, disturbing, extreme and painful in what it tells and radical in its staging. With sensitivity and brutality, Audrey Diwan depicts the sad and pathetic reality of women in the 1960s, forced to risk their lives to maintain their free will.
Even more disturbing and frightening is to note that 50 years later, in 2022, women and their bodies remain not the matter of individual choices, but of political decisions that liberticide.
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The right to abortion in the cinema: 5 films to (re)discover