directed by Laurent Firode
(Lot 47, 2001)

The big-ticket life-changing moments are easy to recognize: Parenthood. Marriage. New job. New house. Death. But the premise of Happenstance is that we're not even aware of many of the most earth-shattering things that happen to us, or pass us by.

Take hailing a cab: Say you catch the first one that comes along. In the cab is a driver who suggests you get out at 5th Street instead of 7th Street. On the 5th Street corner you bump into a guy you haven't seen in years, you have dinner and you end up marrying him.

But what if that first cab passes you by? Or the cab driver says nothing and lets you out at 7th Street instead of 5th? You marry someone else. Or don't marry at all. Different set of kids, of friends, of life experiences.

That's the kind of thing that Happenstance is about.

At its core, it's concerned about a day in the life of Irene (Audrey Tatou, of Amelie). On her way to work, a fellow Metro rider asks for her birthday and shares her horoscope: Irene will meet her true love that day.

After Irene gets off, the young man who had been sitting across from her reveals he shares Irene's birthday and, therefore, her destiny. Is he the one for Irene? What would have to happen, what stars would have to cross, for the pair to meet up again?

Here's where the universe kicks in: unrelated people, insignificant events are what it will take for Irene to find this happiness. Not a new city, or a huge jolt, but tiny stuff, the stuff of everyday life no one notices. A tourist's photograph. A bird eating macaroons tossed in the street. A bug crawling into a purse. A tossed pebble missing a statue. A couple of broken noses. A yellow raincoat given away.

From event to event Happenstance flits like a butterfly (Its original title in France is Le Battement d'ailes du Papillon, or The Beating Wings of the Butterfly), and it's true there's little character development beyond watching how everyone reacts to events around them.

Some let fate take the lead. Others -- mistakenly, according to Happenstance -- have an inflated view of how much control they really have in their own lives.

Directed by Laurent Firode, in French with English subtitles, Happenstance is a film for people who love debating all those "what ifs," all those coincidences that strike like divine providence. Is life chaos? Is it a waltz? No way to tell. But Happenstance is a reminder that the smallest gesture can change the course of humankind.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 28 June 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.