Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, January 25, 2002

Algerian Rai star Faudel is part of a kaleidoscope of characters that pass through "Happenstance," affecting each other in some way.

‘Happenstance’ is a charming
and consistently entertaining film

Rated R
Playing at Wallace Restaurant Row

By John Berger

What if? Who hasn't wondered what would have happened if we had taken the road less traveled (or more traveled), turned left instead of right, or taken a chance and talked to that beautiful stranger instead of playing it safe and polite and saying nothing?

Who can say what might have been? Paul McCartney summed it up perfectly: "Had it been another day / I might have looked the other way / And I'd have never been aware / But as it is / I'll dream of her tonight."

That is the phenomenon director Laurent Firoda explores in the French film "Happenstance." The film is a day in the life of an eclectic hodgepodge of people in Paris. The original title, "Le Battement D'Ailes de Papilon," refers to the notion that all things are interrelated and that the tiny breeze caused by a butterfly's wings over the Atlantic can eventually connect to a typhoon in the Pacific.

Or, as it happens in "Happenstance," an illegal immigrant hiding a produce truck knocks some lettuce on the highway. A bicyclist runs over the lettuce and crashes into a ditch. A small boy sees the man lying in the ditch and later has a nightmare in which his father has died. The boy's mother can't reach her husband when she calls Paris in the middle of the night and decides to go to Paris to check on him.

Audrey Tautou, who also starred in "Amélie" is one of the many characters who float in and out of "Happenstance," affected by others' random acts. On the subway, she's told she'll find love that day.

A woman gives her grandson some cookies. The guy's mother throws one of the cookies into the street. A pigeon eats it. The bird finishes its digestive process while it is perched above two tourists looking at photos they just picked up at a processing shop. Splat! The tourists take the soiled photo back into the store, and the photo clerk recognizes one of the people in the photo as her long-lost ex-boyfriend.

And so it goes. A colorful kaleidoscope of characters pass through the story in a style reminiscent films such as "Slackers" and "Short Cuts." Most are interesting; several stand out. There's a plucky shop clerk, a young man who seems naive but turns out to be a chronic liar, and another man who prefers to take chances on life decisions.

Fans of French films will probably lock in on Audrey Tautou (the charming lead in "Amélie") as one of the film's stars. We meet her on the subway where she's informed, thanks to astrology, that she'll meet the love of her life that day.

It's only after she leaves the car that another passenger, played by Algerian rai star Faudel, mentions that he was born on the same day. Might this be his day to meet the love of his life, too?

One of best things about "Happenstance" as an American film experience is that because few if any of the cast other than Tautou is well known here, so the casting provides no foreshadowing about what is likely to happen. Several characters gradually come to the fore, but even then the outcome of the story remains delightfully unpredictable until the final scene.

This is a charming and consistently entertaining film.

"Happenstance" contains brief male frontal nudity, no on-camera sex and a realistic amount of French profanity.

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