Audrey Diwan, the award-winning French film director, whose abortion drama Happening won the Golden Lion at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, is certainly having a moment.
Her film, based on a book by French writer Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel, follows Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), a talented university student who, in 1963, gets pregnant in a time when abortion is illegal in France. She attempts an illegal abortion, risking her own life. The story is a first-person, diaristic tale, but it’s also a piece of social commentary. "I wanted to make the film as a physical experience," Diwan tells A.frame. "When I read the book, I discovered everything I didn’t know about abortion, it was a wealth of knowledge."
At the time she read the book, Diwan had recently had an abortion herself. "It was medicalized, and I realized medicalized abortion relates to a routine, but illegal abortions are all about random," she says. "The book was an intimate tale because everything was random. Lots of suspense." It was seemingly random news from the U.S. that made her film even timelier. "I was on my way to the Venice Film Festival last year when I heard what was going on in Texas," she tells A.frame.
"I only have one thought in my mind: how can we intervene that debate if we don’t know what legal abortion is? When abortion is banned, women go to illegal abortions," explains Diwan. "The question is, do we agree what girls as human beings are going to go through?"
Diwan is also part of the Collectif 50/50 which promotes gender equality in the film industry.
Below, Diwan breaks down five of the films that have influenced her the most.
Directed by Ken Loach
It’s always in a very pure way that Ken Loach tells stories. The storyline is always something that inevitably has to happen. I, Daniel Blake is also a movie that tells the story through the human body. It's like picking a bone but inside a human form. The story is about how a person fights against a society that uses him. I always loved this film because I can relate to it. I love movies that are so intimate, they tell the truth about themselves, and they become political. I don’t think movies are meant to be political. I think they become political because they say something about a person who lives in a society in a certain place at a certain time. It’s a political film about a human experience.
Directed by Cristian Mungiu
Cristian Mungiu is my favorite filmmaker ever. He represents both the individual and a group of people, simultaneously. We get to see inside the mind of one woman, and her place in the group. It’s beautifully shot, there are no cuts, and you feel close to the subjects with that—there’s almost no distance between viewer and subject. He follows the movement of the characters. He always starts with one small detail and then zooms out to see and feel the whole group. It's an 'inner outside' process that I love. When I was making my film, Happening, you wonder: 'How do I make this movie?' At some point, there’s so much going on inside her [Anne’s] mind, it’s very hard to do. You must create a bond between the audience and the character. At some point, we are her. It’s people against bribery, the church. There’s no manifesto in Cristian Mungiu’s movies. He’s always so brave, while not trying to be. There’s always something that brings political issues to light, ones where you can’t speak about things so freely. It’s a movie about belief and the way your beliefs can change your reality. A woman in the film needs an exorcism only because she loves another girl and stands up for what she thinks. It’s an incredible piece of art.
Directed by Agnès Varda
We had to postpone shooting Happening because we were under lockdown, so we had the extra time to exchange references of movies, and books among the film crew. I told the lead actress [Anamaria Vartolomei] I was working with: 'Watch this movie, watch Vagabond. Look at what Sandrine Bonnaire is doing, it’s gold. The way she stands and moves.' We talked a lot about her body. I watched this movie again a few days ago. I watch it quite often, actually. There’s something so physical about the way she expresses freedom. I love the way Sandrine plays the character. It’s almost a secret relationship to a movie that inspired me so much.
Directed by John Cassavetes
There is an intimate suspense to this film. I have obsessive ideas. The film is centered around this one opening night of a play, and there’s this urgency to express who you are, and there isn’t enough time. It’s a narrative process that involves me, somehow. The way Gena Rowlands plays the role of Myrtle Gordon in Opening Night, it reminds me of something important—when you want to make movies, and you think about acting, you think about Rowlands acting as an actress in the film, and how that’s acting. It’s a lesson of cinema. She’s doing so many things; it's everything you could ask an actress to be. She’s acting as many characters, but the same woman, always. I was so young when I discovered this movie, that it was around the same point I discovered I wanted to make movies, myself. It’s a classic, it’s a cult movie. It shows what an actress can be in a non-artificial way, with an artificial narrative process.
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Every time I’m asked to pick my favorite films, I never know which Kore-eda film to choose. I love Shoplifters, but I love Nobody Knows, as well. I think all his films are related to family, in a strange way. Whatever age you are, you can watch this movie and ask yourself the same questions: What is family? Are our family people who we grew up with, together, or is our family chosen? In a narrative way, you can ask yourself: 'How can you create the bond that will last forever? What is true family?' I love Shoplifters because Kore-eda is a master genius filmmaker. I’m emotionally touched by each of his movies for the relationships between the characters and the way he creates strong feelings between them.
By Nadja Sayej