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Sundance Film Festival Interview: Audrey Diwan and Anamaria Vartolomei Discuss ‘Happening’

Audrey Diwan – Director's Headshot

At the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Awards Radar participated in a press conference with director Audrey Diwan and star Anamaria Vartolomei of Happening. The Golden Lion winner follows a bright student in 1963 France who desperately seeks an abortion at a time when the practice is heavily criminalized and taboo. Below are highlights of that roundtable:

Audrey Diwan on the close-up cinematography…

The main idea before we started, and something we really openly discussed with the DP Laurent Tangy, is that we were going to try not to watch and try to be her. And when I say be her, I also include her gaze. I wanted to give the audience the gaze of that very young girl on her own body. So whenever I asked myself if I should show or not show something, I would think about our own gaze, and try to figure out what it is to be that young girl. What you don’t want to see because you’re scared, what you’re going to see because you need to have a glimpse of it. And also, a young woman looking at her own body doesn’t sexualize it, except when she’s with the guy she’s having sex with.

Audrey Diwan on the decision to explicitly portray abortion…

I tried to embrace that journey with as much honesty as I can. And I can’t see why I would look away when it’s happening. I never tried to make a movie that would be considered shocking. But the reality is shocking. The right length of any scene was one of my main concerns. If it’s too short, I think it’s theoretical. You know she’s suffering, but you can’t feel it. And I really wanted to make the movie a physical experience. If it’s too short, you don’t feel anything. And if it’s too long, it’s provocative. And I didn’t want the movie to be provocative. I just wanted to open discussions. I think that’s where art becomes political.

Anamaria Vartolomei on getting into character…

We didn’t rehearse those scenes because we felt – Audrey and I – that it was kind of difficult to anticipate them and to prepare them. So we found them on set. I think we just trusted each other and trusted all the discussions we had before. We just trusted and jumped into them and embraced the fact that we have to let ourselves be surprised sometimes.

Audrey Diwan on the film’s social relevance…

Since Venice, we had the chance, in spite of the pandemic, to show the movie to different audiences. Like, we had a press conference, and there was a journalist staring at me and I knew he would say something. He said, “Okay, I’m here. But I have to tell you that I’m against abortion.” And it opened a discussion. And that was something I expected. My expectation is not only to show the movie to people who do agree with me, but to people that don’t. And to see how you react. It is one thing to say I’m against abortion. But do you agree that a human would have to go through that whole journey?

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Written by Shane Slater

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for AwardsCircuit.com, ThatShelf.com and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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