A HAPPY EVENT. Starring: Louise Bourgoin, Pio Marmai, and Josiane Balasko. Directed by Remi Bezancon. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong sex scenes). 105 min.
This French, subtitled comedy is based on the 2005 best-selling, autobiographical novel “Un heureux evenement” by the French Philosopher, Eliette Abecassis. It tells the story of a young couple whose lifestyle is changed dramatically by the birth of their first child. The new arrival changes their world in ways they never expected.
A University graduate student, Barbara (Louise Bourgoin), meets a handsome man, Nicolas (Pio Marmai), who works behind the counter at a local video store. They start a relationship over specific videos she has chosen on love and romance. Love blossoms between them, and they agree to have a child.
Before her pregnancy, Barbara had an appetite for sex, to which Nicolas was a very willing party. During the pregnancy, she describes herself as a "hormonal hurricane", but not with Nicolas. The pregnancy is changing her lifestyle, and she is not sure she wants the child she knows Nicolas desires. The film shows graphically the symptoms of Barbara’s pregnancy, and Nicolas begins to realise the strains that incipient parenthood is creating for them both. Having the baby was mostly his idea, but now he is uncertain.
After the child is born, Nicolas is thrilled, but Barbara struggles to reconcile the person she was before her child’s birth with her new role as a mother. She has doubts about managing, and is insecure about what she is expected to do.
For a short while, the birth of their daughter brings Nicolas and Barbara closer together, but the stress of being a parent gradually takes its toll on both of them. Nicolas still wants sex, but Barbara doesn’t want to engage in any activity of that kind, when the baby is around. Nicolas has no idea about how he will cope with what is happening, and he feels as if he is going somewhere "where no man has gone before”. Separation looms for the couple under the pressure. Both Barbara and Nicolas eventually part, but the film ends with the strong suggestion that they will come back to each other.
The film is an intense exploration of life ahead when a twosome becomes a threesome. Whereas the recent, "What To Expect When You Are Expecting" (2012), explores pregnancy issues very superficially for five separate couples, this movie focuses more intensely on how they affect one couple. Like that movie, this film fluctuates between showing the joy and pain of parenthood, and like that movie this film is not a good fortune story for those who want to have children. But what it does focus on well are some of the anxieties of parenting. Parenting can be stressful, but also incredibly joyous. However, the film focuses too heavily on the stresses, and what can go wrong.
The movie shifts gear dramatically when both Nicolas and Barbara face the lonely consequences of splitting up. The film overall is less of a comedy than a drama about the difficulties of parenting and the heart-break caused by separation. In its final moments, the temptation to philosophise becomes too much. Just when Barbara and Nicolas look as if they are back together, the film leaves us to ponder heavy, ambiguous statements like, "what remains (after love) is life".
This is a film that is caught between some comic moments, and dramatic portrayal of relationship problems between husband and wife (as well as mother and daughter), and the conflicts associated with trying to be a good parent. The film, though, has a stylish look, and likeable lead players.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate for the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out July 5, 2012.