Happenstance (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

aka: The Beating of a Butterfly's Wings, Le Battement d'ailes du papillon

In a sense, Happenstance is the Gallic version of Run Lola Run. Of course, given the tendency of the French to emphasize philosophical chatter and character over technique and plot development, you might call it Crawl, Lola, Crawl.

It makes the point that "fate" is very real, but not as we normally understand it. Each day, each of us creates part of our own future and the future of many others with a variety of actions. Throw away a candy bar wrapper and somebody else has to bend over and pick it up. Perhaps the wind blows it away from them. They move to get it and are struck by a passing car. Perhaps your mother is driving that car, and dies in the accident. It's your fault, in a sense. Their fate, in a sense. That's the general idea behind the movie.

The film begins with a chance encounter on a subway. A boy overhears a woman talking to a girl in the seats next to him. The woman is reading the horoscope column, and asks the girl her birth date. The boy overhears that the girl's birthday is the same as his. Her horoscope is that she is destined to meet her true love today. That must also be the boy's horoscope. Are they meant for one another?


female: none

male: Eric Savin is completely naked, full-frontal, for an extended period

To our surprise, she gets off the train, and it pulls away uneventfully. It is obvious to us at that point that they must meet again. But how?

The path there is clever and charming. It is, in essence, a romantic comedy, except that the lovers never interact. We only view the complex real world version of a Rube Goldberg device that leads to their eventual meeting. If any one tiny thing changes, they would not meet. The right bird needs to eat the right thing at the right time, and shit it out at the right time, and so forth, in order for the concatenation to link up properly.

If you read a lot of my summaries, you know that I normally find fault with filmmakers who don't know when or how to end a movie. Not this time. This film has one of the most perfect endings I've ever seen, occurring at exactly the right moment, timed impeccably, and not dragged out a second too long.

Audrey Tautou is absolutely luminescent in the lead. I don't understand a word of French, but I would never read the subtitles when she spoke, because I couldn't take my eyes from her eyes. I see why she captivated the world as Amelie. She has a special Audrey Hepburn quality that makes you want to make her smile, and protect her from harm.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85

The film itself is very clever, very charming, marred only by being too proud of its own cleverness. The characters too often repeat the theme of the film in explicit verbal terms. "Why, I sense that the man over there will decide whether to leave his wife based on your next toss of that pebble. Let's see what he does if you miss." I guess I wouldn't have minded this once, but it happened again and again, as if the scriptwriter didn't trust the intelligence of his audience.

Hey, pal, we get it.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Berardinelli 3/4, filmcritic.com 2.5/5

The People Vote ...


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Cute, unusual romantic comedy. In French, subtitled.

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