Image credit: Happenstance: Stefanie Schneider
ROSY TAUTOU The beautiful creature of ''Happenstance''
The seductive charm of these films, even when they're as gimmicky as this one, is that they only pretend to be parables of predestination. Their real subject is the way that people, by making independent choices and actions, forge and fulfill the possibilities that chance has been playful enough to dangle in front of them. They're mystical love stories for a secular age.
It's hardly serendipity that ''Happenstance'' is being released in the U.S. at the exact same moment as ''Amélie,'' the confectionary French blockbuster whose star, Audrey Tautou, is part of the ensemble here. Tautou has big, brown saucer eyes so dark they look nearly black, as well as a magnificent upper lip that curls outward like a daffodil petal; when she smiles, she suggests a winsome Gallic Julia Roberts merged with Juliette Binoche. In ''Amélie,'' a movie where every shot is composed like an album cover, Tautou is an image as much as she is a character, but you get to glimpse more of her inner spirit in ''Happenstance,'' where she plays a melancholy loner who loses her job at an appliance store. Drifting through Paris, she's lovely in her sadness, yet never so adorable as to seem beyond a conventional woman's heartbreak.
The other characters in ''Happenstance'' include a very sweet pathological liar (Eric Feldman) and a talky espresso-bar misanthrope (Franck Bussi) who, in his egomaniacal eloquence, manages the not inconsiderable feat of out-Depardieuing Depardieu. Come to think of it, there's one of these grizzled armchair philosophers in ''Amélie,'' too. It could be serendipity, but it's probably just the fate of French movies.