Le Battement d’ailes du Papillon [Happenstance] (2000)

(On DVD, August 2006) I didn’t expect much from this film, but it does eventually manage to pull itself together, though right before falling apart again. In a way, that’s fitting for a film that’s all about randomness, chance and the impact of seemingly small actions. The original title of the film is a wink to Chaos Theory and “The Butterfly Effect”, and so the film is a succession of mini vignettes in which characters almost meet up, are separated by chance, see their innocuous actions hurt someone else or find themselves in impossible situations that are completely incomprehensible except for the all-seeing audience. It’s very, very scattered by design, but the various interactions between the characters can be fun to watch, with occasional moments of shallow philosophy exposed. (Gilbert Romain is particularly interesting in his brief scenes as “The Destiny Man”, practically standing in for the screenwriter.) Available in North American solely due to the presence of Audrey Tautou, this film inevitably evokes memories of Amelie De Montmartre. But there’s a world of difference between those two films: Amelie (beyond obviously benefiting from a far more accomplished sense of direction) succeeds where Happenstance doesn’t in tying all threads together and imposing an overarching sense over a tapestry of details. Here, a few plot threads get tied up while the others are just left to scatter: It simply leaves a feeling of incompleteness, of selective conclusion. While the film as a whole leaves a pleasant and fuzzy feeling, it seems to forget its own objectives right before ending.

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