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'Happenstance' gives us another run-in with actress Tautou

Friday, December 14, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Maybe "Happenstance" wouldn't seem so arbitrary if this French trifle hadn't arrived on our shores simultaneously with "Amelie," which also set up shop at the intersection of Chance and Destiny.


RATING: R for a scene of nudity. Subtitled.

STARRING: Audrey Tautou, Eric Feldman.

DIRECTOR: Laurent Firode.



But just how coincidental was the timing? "Happenstance" rides on the critical coattails of "Amelie," which was released in France a year later to much greater success. What they have in common, in addition to their theme, is their lead actress, Audrey Tautou.

In "Happenstance," now at the Denis Theater, she plays Irene, whom we first glimpse riding on the subway. A chatty woman sitting in the opposite seat reads her horoscope, which foretells that Irene will meet the love of her life, but not without complication.

That may be an understatement. Irene turns the corner and disappears for maybe half the movie, while writer-director Laurent Firode introduces us to the remaining players in his fanciful romance.

Richard (Eric Savin) is having an affair and must decide whether or not to leave his wife, Marie (Nathalie Bescanon). Unable to make up his mind, he makes his choices based on the toss of a stone and whether the man in the next booth at the restaurant eats his complimentary piece of chocolate.

That other diner, Luc (Eric Feldman), is a compulsive liar waiting for a date, who decides to stand him up when she realizes his name is an anagram for certain nether regions of the anatomy.

Luc's grandmother has purchased a defective coffeepot. Her attempt to return it leads to Irene losing her job, which in turn puts her on the path toward her romantic destiny. There was, it turns out, a young man in the next seat on the subway who was born on the same day and, thus, shares her horoscope.

Events as minuscule as a piece of lettuce falling off a truck or a bird pooping on a photograph have consequences that lead to significant impact in the lives of various people.

Yet for a movie about people brought together by merest chance, "Happenstance" makes it all feel too calculated. Almost everything that happens to people in this movie is accidental in a sense, including an automobile accident that occurs just as the driver says he doesn't believe in accidents.

In "Amelie," by contrast, the people take an active role in their destiny even if, as in the title character's case, they are trying to avoid it. In "Amelie," everyone seems alive to fate's possibilities, albeit in a stylized setting. In "Happenstance," the locations are more real but the characters seem to be in a daze, doing little more than reacting to external forces.

The film's whimsy is steeped in Gallic fatalism, which is hardly inappropriate considering the setting and theme. But in a romantic comedy, I guess I prefer fate to be more fanciful.

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