Audrey Diwan’s Happening launched New Directors/New Films in April, mesmerizing viewers with the story of a brilliant literature student from a working-class background seeking an abortion to keep her life from derailing. In 1963 France the procedure was illegal. The suspense builds with each week a new chapter title as she seeks help from doctors, friends, the boy she slept with, and her body continue to change. Everyone backs away, judgmental, terrified of being thrown in prison for helping, or both.
‘Happening’ took the Golden Lion in Venice last year. Star Anamaria Vartolomei won the César Award for best newcomer Deadline review here. Diwan and Marcia Romano wrote the screenplay based on the 2000 novel of the same name by Annie Ernaux.
IFC Films releases ‘Happening’ (L’événement) in four theaters this weekend – IFC Center/Lincoln Plaza in New York, the Landmark/the Grove in LA, expanding thereafter a bit faster than anticipated. “Our phone has been ringing off the hook,” IFC distribution chief Arianna Bocco told Deadline on Tuesday – the morning after news broke that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe V. Wade. Theaters that had scheduled it for a nationwide rollout May 20 “are moving it up, and we are getting calls from people who were not going to play the film and now want to,” said Bocco. “On the flip side, we are having trouble booking it in certain areas” in the South and Midwest. IFC anticipates 150 screens at its widest point. “The goal is to get as many people as possible to see the film.”
“Theaters are supposed to be non-partisan,” Bocco said, “and we are very intent on presenting this film as the human side of the story, and not the political side of the story.”
Diwan tells Deadline she sees the film as “more important, and more relevant because it is not a political manifesto. It is the reality of one girl, who doesn’t even try to please you. She is not trying to be nice. She is who she is.”
“If you want to participate in the abortion debate, whether you are against it or for it, you should understand it clearly. We cannot talk about something we don’t know.”
She approached the film asking, “What is an illegal abortion? The first major difference is that medicalized abortion is going through a kind of routine. Anything can happen of course, but there is some kind of routine. Whereas for a woman going on that [illegal] journey, it is random. And I thought it was a crazy idea. Like, who are you going to meet? Is that person going to help you or turn you over to the police? Are you going to die, or end up in jail, or in the hospital? I mean everything is random. And this randomness, this suspense is unbearable,” she the ND/NF U.S. premiere at MoMA April 20.
Sticking with the topic of the moment, New York’s Metrograph launches film series It Happens To Us: Abortion in American Film and will direct half of ticket sales to NARAL Pro-Choice America and U.S. reproductive rights groups. The program has been in the works for months with guest curator Emma Myers, “but never did we anticipate it would run in the midst of such a historically horrific turn,” organizers said. It includes American films from the silent era to present day that depict unintended pregnancy. Filmmakers Rashaad Ernesto Green (Premature), Eliza Hittman (Never Rarely Sometimes Always) and Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child) will attend screenings of their films. A documentary shorts sidebar includes It Happens to Us by Amalie R. Rothschild. Showing this weekend: Josef Von Sternberg’s 1931 drama An American Tragedy; Detective Story by William Wyler, 1951; Where Are My Children? from 1916 by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley; and Love With The Proper Stranger from 1963 by Robert Mulligan.
Other specialty openings:
Film Movement presents Russia-Ukraine war drama Reflection, written and directed by Valentyn Vasyanovych. In 2014, Ukrainian surgeon Serhiy enlists to fight Russian forces in the Donbass region and is captured. Witness to horrifying scenes of humiliation and violence, his medical background is co-opted to dispense mercy killings to the tortured. Released, he returns traumatized to his comfortable middle-class life to try to rebuild relationships with his daughter and ex-wife. Premiered in Venice. Opening at AFI Silver, DC, and a handful of virtual cinemas including Laemmle, hoping to expand.
Yellow Veil Pictures presents Gaspar Noe’s horror Lux Aeterna at the Metrograph in NYC, expanding to LA next week and nationwide May 20. Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg are on a film set telling stories about witches. Technical problems and psychotic outbreaks gradually plunge the shoot into chaos.
Noe is having a moment. Utopia opened Vortex at IFC Film Center last week, is adding LA, Chicago, Seattle, Miami, Portland, Austin, Houston, Baltimore, DC, SF and Pittsburgh and continuing to platform the film through May.
Cinema Guild presents Korean drama In Front Of Your Face from Hong Sang-soo at Film at Lincoln Center, expanding to about 20 theaters through June. The Cannes drama follows former actress Sangok (Lee Hyeyoung), returned to Seoul after years abroad and staying with her sister Jeongok (Cho Yunhee). They sleep late, breakfast in a café and visit a restaurant owned by Jeongok’s son. But as the details of Sangok’s day accrue (a spill on her blouse, an encounter at her childhood home), it becomes clear that there is much she is not revealing. Hong is in New York for the first time in five years for the opening and a retrospective of his work at Lincoln Center. Next week’s run at American Cinematheque in LA will also be accompanied by a retrospective.
Greenwich Entertainment presents mountaineering documentary The Sanctity of Space in NYC and LA with plans to expand to various western/mountain markets (Denver, Salt Lake, SF, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix) next Friday then rolling into TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, Northwest Film Forum in Seattle and other cities.
Netflix presents John Madden’s Operation Mincemeat in 30 theaters/15 markets including the Paris (Netflix’ theater) and the Quad in NYC and the Landmark and the Bay in LA ahead of a May 11 streaming debut. Based on the book Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II by Ben Macintyre, the WW 2 drama stars Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn.