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Happenstance (2000)

R · 90 minutes

Directed by Laurent Firode
Written by Laurent Firode

 · Audrey Tautou
 · Faudel

Review by Thom Stricklin

After Dirty Pretty Things and He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, this old rental completed the trifecta of films I watched simply to experience Audrey Tautou (of Amélie fame) in action.  While I was disappointed in her absense throughout long portions of the film, I was rather pleased with the film overall.




Do you know about the Butterfly Effect? Sure you do.  Jeff Goldblum explained it in Jurassic Park: "A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking, and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine." As one might guess from the title itself, Happenstance is all about randomness and chance.  It details how the tiniest of events can lead to a particular outcome--in this case, the uniting of two soulmates.

Happenstance adheres strictly to its philosophy, perhaps to a fault.  The film skips from person to person in what is quite a large ensemble cast, itemizing how each of them contributes to the system.  Due to the intricacies of details involved, in order to bring the audience to the "main" characters' resolution, it fails to follow up on supporting players, many of whom shared as much screen time as the leads.  As a result, audiences might be left with more questions than what answers the ending provides.  This might be solved by extending the length of the film to follow the other characters, but Happenstance borders on sluggishness at 90 minutes.

Still, because of the film's constant reverence to its notions of chance and fate, it leaves us with a sense of faith that "happenstance" will come to everyone in their own turn.




With such a large cast, it's surprising that there seem to be no weak links among them.

We get to see a different side of Audrey Tautou's spectrum than the naive, wide-eyed dreamer we're familiar with...  Here, she's a bit cynical, certainly a realist, and at times, rather self-centered.  Her eyes and head hang a little low, and the pixie we watched in Amélie practically disappears.  As with He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, this film is not a great challenge to her acting abilities, but she provides a simple role with solid performance.

The same can be said with all the cast, though it's a bit challenging to match actors' names with the characters' faces.  They each play his or her role evenly, with a unique and distinguishable set of strengths and weaknesses.

Such characterization was obviously well thought out by Laurent Firode, who wrote and directed Happenstance.  He does a magnificent job at characterization, and one wonders how great he might do with a film focused on two or three main characters.  His visual style, while not overpowering, also contributes greatly to the presentation of detail in the film.



Happenstance is most likely the best film in Tautou's repertoire, before her international success in Amélie.  Don't expect Audrey in every scene, but if you wish to sample some more of her acting, or if you're just interested in an intelligent foreign film, Happenstance should leave you happy.

494 Words · Published: 14 September 2003

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