Audrey Diwan’s furiously empathic Venice Golden Lion-winning drama brings a sickening, ticking-clock urgency to the plight of a young female student. Anne (a compelling Anamaria Vartolomei) is faced with the choice between carrying an unplanned pregnancy to term, at the expense of her hopes, ambitions and considerable academic promise, or risking imprisonment or worse by seeking an illegal backstreet abortion.
The film, adapted from the autobiographical novel of the same name by Annie Ernaux, is set in northern France in the early 1960s. It is emphatically timely, however, both in approach – period details are deliberately downplayed – and themes. The film opens in the UK in the same month that Kentucky became the first US state to “completely and immediately” block access to terminations.
Happening is a visceral, confronting experience: the dispassionately procedural depictions of two attempted terminations are almost unwatchably gruelling. But the film’s real power comes not from the brutal assault of these scenes, which match those of Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe for unflinching horror, but from the emotional connection that Diwan deftly creates between Anne and an audience that finds itself living her trauma rather than just watching it.