Last night I finally caught Audrey Diwan’s Happening, which is easily the most sobering, harrowing and artful abortion drama I’ve seen since Cristian Mungiu‘s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which premiered at Cannes almost exactly 15 years ago.

Happening premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Festival (where it won the Golden Lion), but IFC Films didn’t open it theatrically until last month with streaming set to launch on 6.21. So it’s shooting right to the top of HE’s best of 2022 list.

I wouldn’t call Happening a “horror film,” but in its plain, frank and unfettered way it comes close to that. Honestly? The conservative wing of the Supreme Court should watch it before rendering their final positions on Roe vs. Wade.

Based on Annie Ernaux’s 2011 memoir and set in a small French town in 1963, or 12 years before abortion was finally legalized in that country, it’s about Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), a bright 23 year-old college student who finds herself unwelcomely knocked up. “I’d like a child one day,” she tells one of the doctors she goes to, “but not instead of a life.” She wants agency, to possibly write — a woman at least a decade ahead of her time.

The film is about Anne’s agonizing attempts to terminate, and I’m telling you right now what she and the audience go through together at times is not easy to sit through. Three scenes are especially tough. We’re talking graphic, “God, this is awful”, avert-your-eyes stuff.

But it’s the honest truth, and given the film’s low-key, straight-up directness and uncomfortable naturalism there’s no way to respond except with admiration and awe.

The film lasts 100 minutes, and there’s not a single moment that feels theatrical or manipulative or over-cooked.

Vartolomei, 24, doesn’t “play” Anne as much as submit to the reality of the story — she’s just there, quietly alarmed, trying to figure it out, guarded, persistent and going through hell.

In his 5.12.22 review, Newsday‘s Rafer Guzman wrote something very strange: “Whether you condone this film or condemn it, Happening presents a brutal reality.” Condemn it? Who the hell would condemn an honest account of what a young pregnant woman went through 60 years ago? Pro-life fanatics, I suppose, but God.

HE to critic friendo: “Happening is drop-dead brilliant — the best anguish-of-women film since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Have you seen it?

Friendo to HE: “Haven’t yet, will check it out.”

HE to friendo: “I can understand a woman who’s been through an abortion not wanting to see this. A friend has never seen 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days for this reason. I said to her that 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days “is not an ‘abortion film’ — it’s a Cristian Mungiu film.’”

Friendo to HE: “But it’s totally an abortion film. I think 4 Months is an unassailable work of cinema, although I found it painful to watch and, truth to tell, a touch arduous, though I don’t deny that it’s superbly done. If you look at the box office grosses for Happening, you’ll see it’s not a film that even what’s left of the art-house audience has much interest in seeing.”

HE to friendo: “But it’s a forecast of what’s to come after Roe is trashed.”

Friendo to HE: “I think that political issue transcends movies. Frankly, I have not seen a drama about abortion that truly confronts what I think is the most complicated factor in the issue: how much certain women are haunted by having abortions, and in any number of cases regret it.”