If you liked Amelie, you’ll love Happenstance, guaranteed! You will watch it with a silly smile on your face, walk out of the theater, look at the friends and strangers around you and feel (or know??) as if we are all somehow connected in the most microscopic, intangible ways.
The French title of the film, Le Battement D’Aile du Papillon, stems from the notion that butterflies’ wings fluttering in Texas could cause a cyclone in the Pacific. So maybe I’m a sucker for this stuff, but I swear to you, this film is seamlessly put together and amazingly unforced. According to an interview with Firode, “The characters evolve in the movie without being aware that they are part of the story. The audience always has the impression of knowing more than the characters in the film.”
It’s a clever, fresh comedy about how the subtlest twists of fate (throwing pebbles at the park, taking the subway) affect the lives of total strangers. Happenstance ingeniously tracks a group of about two dozen seemingly unconnected individuals during the course of one long day.
While riding the Metro to work, salesgirl Irene (Tautou) is told by a loony woman sitting across from her that her horoscope predicts she’ll “meet the love of her life” that day. After she gets off the train, the young man who had been sitting near her (Faudel) reveals he shares her birthday, and perhaps fate. Though separated once she steps off the Metro, a series of totally unrelated characters and events conspire to bring the two together again.
As the characters interact randomly, every chance encounter bears a consequence that will later become significant, culminating in an intricate pattern of narrowly, or not so narrowly, averted disasters and grasped opportunities. Things like a pebble thrown off a terrace; a fainting bum on the Metro platform; a falling dollop of bird excrement on a photograph; a first date; an extramarital affair; two heads of lettuce falling off a delivery truck; and a pathological liar (Friedman) and his grandmother who insist on returning a coffeemaker, which in turn gets Irene fired from the appliance shop where she works. All these vivid, often comic moments, finally emerge as a deceptively simple love story.
An ensemble cast is comprised of gorgeous, Cesar-winning actress Audrey Tautou, star of Amelie, who illuminates the screen in both films. It introduces Faudel, a rising star of the Algerian Rai music tradition. A host of other talented actors portray the people whose lives connect in a maze of “coincidences.”
Happenstance is the first feature-length film of director Laurent Firode, who has and will continue to work on short films in France. Make it a point to see. But even if you don’t, it’ll catch up to you someday!