dir. Firode
Opens Fri April 12

The self-explanatory subject matter of Laurent Firode's Happenstance is familiar territory: A study in coincidence toying with fate and the power of seemingly insignificant acts to alter people's lives. However, Happenstance does so without the onslaught of schlock found in last year's similarly aimed Serendipity.

The film tracks several characters over the course of one day. Their activities intertwine in mysterious ways, the eventual result of which is the fulfillment of the daily horoscope. The film opens with Irene (Audrey Tautou) and Younes (Faudel) riding the Paris Metro, strangers sitting across from each other who share a birthday; their horoscope predicts that they will meet their soulmate by the end of the day. Although Tautou may never shake her saccharine association with Amelie, it's relieving to see her do a sourpuss turn. Upon being requested to spare some change or a smile by a homeless man, she spits, "Do you think you make me want to smile?"

The other characters are an oddball crew of discontented individuals, including a pathological liar, a smarmy cheating husband, an unemployed drunk, and a petty thief. Throughout the day, they touch each other's lives through such trivial acts as tossing a pebble or leaving a shopping bag in the Metro. Perhaps the most amusing example of significant chance is a woman tossing a cookie out of her car, which is consumed by pigeons, one of whom craps it out onto a photograph taken by tourists outside a photo shop. They take it back inside and make the girl behind the counter wipe it off. Under the goop, she finds the face of an old lover and the opportunity to track him down. How romantic.

Happenstance is an interesting exploration of philosophical attempts to explain or control the outcome of life. The realization is that there is no way to effectively control fate, and there is no such thing as an insignificant act or gesture. Fine, but the bit about the butterfly flapping its wings over the Atlantic and causing a tsunami in the Pacific could really use revamping.