A Happy Event: another baby-and-relationship movie, but French!

These days, Eric and I get all our Saturday night movies from our wonderful public library. He picks out the new and classic American films–he always has, he’s far more aware of what’s out and what’s famous and what’s too dark for me to enjoy than I do. But we’ve recently discovered that I have a funny little gift for perusing the foreign films shelves and finding stuff worth watching.

Recently, Eric and I spent a couple evenings working through A Happy Event (Un heureux événement), in French with English subtitles. It was an interesting movie, worth watching. But it also struck me as really depressing and even sort of bleak, especially given that the DVD cover calls it “sexy,” “humorous,” full of “thrills and laughs,” and “a perfect film for everyone who’s had a baby … or anyone who might ever want to!” Oh, and “The film Knocked Up strived to be,” too.

A Happy Event tells the story of Barbara and Nicolas, a happy and impetuous couple who happily and impetuously decided to have a baby together … and then find that their relationship is falling all to hell. It’s a beautiful movie (and that baby has some pretty parents, too!). I admit it: there are some humorous sequences, and some sweet ones, too.

But at its heart, this is a moving and distressing film about postpartum depression that never actually says “postpartum depression.” Eric and I spent much of it telling the screen that the main character needs help, stop being mean to her, she’s having problems, how is no one recognizing this?!? Instead, the character’s suffering seems to be imagined as an inherent part of becoming a mother. By the end, she has given up her graduate work in philosophy (driven from it by her unreliable body and raging hormones) and started writing a novel about motherhood instead.

Also, I know it’s a thing for some people, but it totally flips me out that Nicolas refuses to have sex with the pregnant (and constantly revved-up) Barbara because he feels like the baby’s with them or something. Totally flips me out.

Refreshingly, though, the birth scene feels realistic and raw. It’s difficult to watch–the “care” she receives is inadequate and borderline-abusive–but I think it’s supposed to be confronting.

Comparing this movie with Knocked Up is very odd. This is a much better movie, much more realistic and deeply-felt. But it’s also a completely different kind of movie: different mood, different project. It’s certainly a far cry from the strangers-into-traditional-nuclear-family plot that US romantic comedies present as a feel-good formula. In A Happy Event, the baby doesn’t make the couple but instead breaks the couple (regardless of whether they stay together in the end). Neither Eric nor I cared at all about whether Barbara and Nicolas ended up together: maybe we’re just weird, but it didn’t feel like viewers were invited to invest in their relationship. Instead, it’s a movie about the adjustment to motherhood … in a deeply hostile social and cultural environment, which the movie doesn’t seem to see clearly but presents tellingly nonetheless.

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