Notions of fate and destiny are hardly groundbreaking concepts for romantic comedy; in fact, they’ve become the very cornerstones of most contemporary examples of the genre. So it takes an added amount of either creativity or charm to lend these rather exhausted ideas a certain freshness. In the whimsical French import “Happenstance,” writer-director Laurent Firode has brought both to a familiar story.
The film’s original title, “Le Battement d’Ailes du Papillon,” literally translates as “The Beating of the Butterfly’s Wings,” a reference to the theory that an event as random and minor as a butterfly fluttering its wings over the Atlantic can cause a hurricane in the Pacific. That idea appears to apply to the paths of Irène (Audrey Tautou) and Younès (Faudel). The two vaguely encounter each other but don’t exactly meet one morning on the Métro, when a woman seated next to both of them tells Irène her horoscope for that day: she will meet the love of her life, but it will be a rough journey getting there. The unconvinced Irène goes on her way before Younès declares that he has the exact same birthdate as she — and, hence, the same horoscope. Naturally (that is, as according to the rules of this genre), Younès and Irène are the ideal love matches for each other.
But as the butterfly theory goes, mere happenstance can cause a ripple effect, and so seemingly unlinked people and events appear to conspire to keep Irène and Younès apart–people as random as a pickpocket who never meets with either of the two, and events as random as bird droppings falling on a photograph. There’s no doubt that sheer mechanism propels “Happenstance,” but the numerous characters and storylines flow and converge in a gracefully unpredictable and witty manner, and Tautou (ably playing a far less sunny character than her current arthouse darling, Amélie) and Faudel are magnetic and likable as the preordained twosome.