Happenstance (2000) / Drama
aka Le battement d'ailes du papillon (The Beating of the Butterfly's Wings)
MPAA Rated: R for nudity and language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Eric Savin, Eric Feldman, Younes, Audrey Tautou, Lysaine Meis, Francoise Bertin, Irene Ismailoff, Said Serrari
Director: Laurent Firode
Screenplay: Laurent Firode
Review published November 2, 2003
The original title of Happenstance translates to The Beating of the Butterfly's Wings, which deals with a theory that the chain of events that generates from the flapping of a butterfly's wings over the ocean ultimately culminates in a typhoon somewhere else. Essentially, the whole movie's premise is built around a chain of unlikely events that happens to a group of strangers whose lives intersect in many ways without any of them fully realizing it.
It's an idea that has been done before, with Magnolia being the most significant incarnation, but it's rarely as stolid as depicted here. This is about as boring as French cinema gets, with pretentious plotting, bland characters, and lifeless direction. It's the kind of movie that will have you looking at your watch repeatedly wondering how such a film could be only 90 minutes long when it feels like it past the three hour mark long ago.
There's not really a plot to speak of save for the intersecting lives of several characters. There's the woman looking for love, the philandering husband, the jilted lover, the lying opportunist, and a senile woman with a broken coffee machine. They each do something random that indirectly affects the life of one of the others, and underlying themes of luck and chance permeate much of the conversations.
If you're going to watch this film because Audrey Tautou (He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not, L'Auberge Espagnole) gets top billing, be forewarned that she isn't in the film very much, maybe only 20 minutes of the entire running length. That's a shame, since she is probably the only interesting player in the entire ensemble cast, although her character is written to be just as dull as the rest of them. In short, we care very little about the plight of any of these people, leaving only the mechanically constructed storyline and a lot of whining French people to follow.
Unless you like gimmicky movies, or are just one of those people who believes anything with subtitles must be good, Happenstance is just too vapid an experience to recommend. Silly notions of life, love, and luck all get thrown into the mix, but each revelation only furthers the insipid feeling of the overall story. My own personal take on the Butterfly Effect theory: the flapping of a butterfly's wings will have moviegoers around the world snoring in comfortable chairs.
©2003 Vince Leo