2000, R, 97 min. Directed by Laurent Firode. Starring Audrey Tautou, Faudel, Eric Feldman, Eric Savin, Irene Ismailoff, Lysaine Meis.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 3, 2002
The French title of Happenstance -- Le Battement d'Ailes du Papillon -- refers to the theory that the flutter of a butterfly's wings can effect a tsunami half a world over. That sounds about right, considering this French film, for all its talk of fate and consequence, has a dramatic import as thin as those gossamer wings. Happenstance begins with a young woman named Irene (Amélie's Audrey Tautou) who is read her horoscope by a stranger on the subway, a horoscope that predicts love is just around the corner. Her seatmate, Younes (Faudel), overhears the prediction and, after Irene has debarked, remarks that he shares the exact same birthday, and presumably, the same fate. What follows is a day in the lives of a dozen-plus Parisians, whose smallest actions, like throwing a shoe or missing the metro, add a few more threads in Happenstance's patchwork plotting, each existing to further the film's fulfillment of that horoscope. Or, as a mischievous old man muses, the little twists of fate boil down to “why you have to piss in the sea to make the ocean rise.” Ah, those old salty French dogs. Actually, he represents one of the more fully characterized participants within (and his screen time numbers all of three minutes). Happenstance suffers from a wan dismissal of its characters' quirks and complexities; writer-director Firode is far more concerned with their placement in the intricate plotting, with their misplaced handbag or airborne shoe. It's all forward motion, carefully choreographed to get Tautou and Faudel to where they need to be by film's end. Ironically, those two are the most neglected of the bunch. Tautou's many charms are rendered useless, reduced to an attractive mopeyness with nothing to do but shuffle about and wait for her orders, for the next plot contrivance. Faudel, an Algerian pop singer in his feature film debut, has a more interesting throughline, but by the time Firode gets around to addressing him, we've completely forgotten Younes is the other pawn in this game. The many supporting actors, especially Eric Savin as a cheating husband, help to flesh out the negligible narrative, and some of the twists really are quite inventive. But it's a winking, “aren't I clever?” inventiveness that forever keeps the viewer at arm's length. Yes, Firode is quite clever; his film is a clever idea that never stretches beyond just that -- a caterpillar that never blooms into a butterfly.