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Film / Happenstance

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Happenstance (Le battement d'ailes du papillon—"The beating of a butterfly's wings") is a 2000 film directed by Laurent Firode.

The Central Theme of the movie is how random chance and seemingly insignificant choices affect our lives. The action, which takes place over a single day in Paris, shows a large cast of people who impact each other in ways that many of them aren't aware of. The characters include:

  • Irene (Audrey Tautou), a shopgirl in a home appliance store who loses her job because she fails to catch a shoplifter named Bobby.
  • Bobby the shoplifter tries to give the coffeemaker he stole to Irene as a consolation. She abandons it in the subway station, which causes the station to be closed, which causes a guy named Frank to miss the stop and miss his rendezvous with an old lover, Stephanie, who happens to be Irene's roommate.
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  • Stephanie thinks she's been stood up, so she walks out of the cafe where she was supposed to meet Frank. She promptly has her purse stolen by a pickpocket. The pickpocket ditches a yellow jacket, which is picked up by the shoplifter, who gives it to a waiter named Younes. Stephanie sees Younes wearing the yellow jacket, attacks him, and breaks his nose.
  • Bobby was only in the appliance store because he had a 20% off coupon from a man named Richard who is cheating on his wife and is debating whether to break up with his wife or his girlfriend. Richard left the coupon in a coffee shop, which he left after being bored to tears by a young man named Luc. Luc is 30 and unemployed and, while affable, is also a compulsive liar. While on his way to a job interview he saw a homeless man collapse on the subway in front of him, and remained frozen, while the homeless man was eventually helped by...the pickpocket in the yellow jacket.


  • Bird-Poop Gag: A macaroon is eaten by a pigeon, who promptly poops—directly on to a photo that two tourists have just gotten printed.
  • Call-Back:
    • The lady in the subway says that Irene, because she has a specific birthday and the full moon is out, will find her true love that day. This greatly interests Younes, who is sitting across from Irene and has the exact same birth date. At the end, there's a shot of the full moon in the sky as Irene and Younes are finding each other on the bench outside the hospital.
    • The "Destiny Man" in the park tells the pebble thrower that they are "sand in the gears of fate". At the very end, the illegal immigrant has made it back to his Paris apartment with his family. He shows them a tin of sand he's brought back from their home in North Africa. A woman opens the door, causing a breeze which blows some of the sand out the window—and into the eyes of Younes and Irene sitting on the bench below. Both of them rub at their eyes at the same time, which is what causes them to see each other, as the film ends.
  • Compulsive Liar: Luc, who while apparently being an affable sort and a good soul, has insecurities (possibly created by his domineering mother, a police detective) which lead him to lie compulsively to everybody. He tells Julie the story of the homeless man who keeled over in the subway, only in his version he's the hero and someone else sat frozen. Then when he's having coffee at the cafe and sitting at the table next to Richard, he tells Richard that he's the one who works for the museum and he interviewed Julie and gave her a job, when in reality it was the other way around.
  • Ensemble Cast: A large cast of characters, who all interact with each other without any one having a huge amount of screen time. (Audrey Tautou would hit the big time with her very next movie, Amélie.)
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Over almost a full 24-hour day, starting in the early pre-dawn hours when the illegal immigrant in the truck winds up causing the drunk bicyclist's accident, and ending in the late evening when both Irene and Younes have to go to the ER to get broken noses looked at.
  • Eye Open: One scene starts with a gigantic closeup of an eye. It's the Nosy Neighbor who is peering through her peephole at Irene, unable to open the locked door to her own apartment.
  • For Want of a Nail: The Central Theme, of the interconnected nature of life and existence and how minor incidents can have huge consequences. An example: an illegal immigrant hops on a produce truck and, when he stretches out, knocks some lettuce into the roadway. The lettuce on the roadway causes a drunk guy on a bike to have an accident, which leaves him knocked out by the roadside. A boy sees the man by the side of the road, goes home and to bed, and then has a nightmare in which it's his father dead by the side of the road. The boy's mom then calls the dad, Richard—who is having an affair. Richard's failure to answer because he's in the middle of sex with his mistress leads the wife to drive into Paris to find him, which causes Richard's dilemma of whether or not to confess his affair and get a divorce.
    The Destiny Man: You see, every gesture, every detail, as slight as it may be, reveals an infinity fo truths and thus has an endless repercussion and grandiose effects. You only have to piss in the sea to make an ocean rise.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Luc gets an interview for a job as a museum guard with Julie. She impulsively gives him the job immediately. However, Julie then does an anagram with his name, apparently as superstition, and finds that "Luc Gosener" is an anagram for "gros en cule"—"huge asshole". She ditches him.
  • Going to the Store: Richard's lie to Elsa that he broke things off with his wife leads to Elsa taking him to her parents to introduce her. Richard, in a blind panic, then says he has to step out for cigarettes, and never returns. This leaves to a broken-hearted Elsa chucking her souvenir pebble (It Makes Sense in Context) off the balcony. The pebble hits the windshield of Irene's taxicab which results in the cabbie swerving and Irene getting a broken nose—which leads to Irene's Happy Ending.
  • Greek Chorus: The "Destiny Man", an older gentleman who makes some strangely apropos comments about the nature of fate and human interconnection, but does not play any direct part in the story himself. After urging the pebble-thrower in the park to intentionally miss his target—which causes Richard to avoid confessing to his mistress—the Destiny Man says "We've altered the course of fate, like a grain of sand that jams the works."
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Luc winds up leaving the museum with a very pretty Asian-American woman who thinks he's another patron. He walks her back to her place but hesitates when she invites him in. Then he tells her that he can't go in with her because he's a security guard at the museum, and he was ashamed to admit it, and he hates having a boring menial job where he wastes the day away. But he says this all in French, which she doesn't understand, then turns around and leaves.
  • Hyperlink Story: The whole film, as characters who don't even know each other make minor decisions that wind up having massive effects on each others' lives. Luc's grandma makes him some macaroons. Luc's mom tries one, says it's terrible, and tosses it in the street. A pigeon eats the macaroon and poops on a photo that two tourists are looking at. The two tourists take the photo back into the pharmacy, where Stephanie the pharmacist wipes the bird poop off, and sees her old lover, Frank, who is now an EMT. The photo is of Frank the EMT rushing to the aid of the homeless man on the subway, with a frozen Luc sitting in the background.
  • Imagine Spot: Richard meets his wife Marie at the train station and confesses that he doesn't love her and he's leaving her for another woman...and that's revealed to be an imagine spot. He meets his girlfriend Elsa in the park, and tells her that he can't hurt Marie any more and they have to break up...but that's an imagine spot too. He's too cowardly to confess the truth to either woman.
  • Lunacy: A lady on the train reads Irene's palm and says that she will find true love that day, because the full moon will be out that night. The full moon seems to act as a sort of connective force between the characters.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: How can you tell this is a French movie, asides from all the people speaking French? Some casual male frontal nudity, as Richard sits up in bed after sex with his mistress.
  • Mistaken for Gay: The elderly Nosy Neighbor thinks that Irene and Stephanie are lesbians (they're just roommates).
    The neighbor: I was AC/DC once!
  • Paying It Forward: This idea is told to Bobby by the barista at the cafe, who talks about building up a sort of karmic savings as a way of explaining why he 1) paid Luc's €5 bill and 2) gave the 20% off appliances coupon to Bobby. Bobby attempts to pay this forward by 1) stealing the coffeemaker for the old lady (Luc's grandma) and 2) giving the yellow rain slicker to Younes. Both of these actions seem to backfire horribly as they result in Irene losing her job and Younes breaking his nose. However, eventually Irene winds up also breaking her nose after losing her job—a minor car accident on the way to the train station, unwittingly caused Elsa, Richard's mistress—which winds up causing Irene and Younes to meet, and presumably to fall in love, since they were born on the exact same day and thus have the exact same horoscope for true love.
  • Read the Freaking Manual: Luc's grandma, who bought a coffeemaker to make him coffee when he visits, can't get it to work. She takes it to the store where the rude customer service man says "Read the instructions." This offends Bobby who then shoplifts a coffeemaker on the grandma's behalf.
  • Title Drop: Of the original French title, that is. Delivered by the Destiny Man, the Greek Chorus who explicates the themes of the movie, as he expounds on his For Want of a Nail theories of existence.
    The Destiny Man: Don't they say that the beating of a butterlfy's wings over the Atlantic can cause a hurricane in the Pacific?