At the heart of this 2022 film from Director Blandine Lenoir is the crucial step of the journey of French women’s fight for the right to abortion.
The eponymous Annie, superbly played by award winning actress Laure Calamy, known to fans of the popular Netflix series Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent), is a married working woman with two children who finds herself pregnant again. In her rural French town, she finds a branch of the Movement for the Liberation of Abortion and Contraception (MLAC), a collective created by women in 1973 when abortion was still illegal in France, meeting in the backroom of a local bookshop and offering a free service performed by medically trained women.
Triggered by the death of a friend who dies after a ‘back street’ abortion, Annie starts to volunteer with MLAC and in doing so learns how to take part in careful sensitive questioning required when an anxious woman arrives. The film shows the enormous compassion and sorority from the volunteers who help ordinary working women in a wide range of difficult circumstances, elements that they feared would be lost when the process became law and under the power of medical authority. One of these generous elements is the gentle singing of the lovely song A la claire Fontaine during the process, known as the Karman method of non-surgical abortion.
The film shows that the MLAC had male allies such as the kindly Dr Chevals (no credit available) and the sympathetic young male doctors who also volunteer, as well of course Annie’s husband who is on board for most of her journey to personal liberation. There is a moment of levity as, after the dissolving of MLAC following the passing of the Veil law authorizing abortion, a young doc learns a lesson in empathy when asked to physically do what a woman has to for a gynaecological examination!
Shot in naturalistic style by cinematographer Céline Bozon, who breaks boundaries as she achieves something related to the film’s subject matter that’s never been done before in film. The recognisable ‘70s colour palette of orange and brown tones, thanks in part to costumier Annie Blanchard and her team, add to the authenticity, where the well-spoken French is a bonus.
The 2021 film The Happening (l’évènement), based on Nobel prize winning author Annie Ernaux’s book of the same name, shows the harrowing experience of another woman seeking an illegal abortion in the previous decade and Angry Annie shows in a very sensitive, humane way how the bravery of pioneers in the MLAC helped change things.
L’Hymne des Femmes accompanies the credits for this excellent film that stands as an important reminder of how recently women, not just in France, have won rights over their bodies.