Chance or Coincidence

France/Canada 1998

Reviewed by Ginette Vincendeau


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Myriam is a divorced ballerina with an eight-year-old son, Serge. She falls in love with art dealer/forger Pierre. After a short period of bliss, during which Serge films them with his video camera, Pierre takes mother and child on a long trip to fulfil Serge's dream to see Canadian white bears, the 'death divers' of Acapulco, and to meet a Quebecois hockey star. They also plan to see Pierre's native Turkey and the whirling dervishes Myriam is fascinated by.

However, Pierre and Serge are accidentally drowned. The grief-stricken Myriam decides to film the planned holiday. Her camera and tapes are stolen and resold to "futurologist" Marc, who on viewing footage of Myriam becomes infatuated. Myriam buys a new camera and goes on filming. Marc tracks her down and declares his love in Acapulco (wrecking his own marriage). The film ends on Marc's stage act mixing film and theatre, watched by Myriam.


From the typically vague yet grandiloquent title, and the opening scenes flashing back and forth between wildly different locations (frozen Canada, an auction house in Paris, Venice in glowing light), it is clear we're in Claude Lelouch territory. Chance or Coincidence, his thirty-seventh film, offers the familiar pleasures and equally familiar irritations that have marked Lelouch's oeuvre.

On the pleasure side are glorious images and an outrageously melodramatic plot about a bereaved woman and a man who falls in love with her. Shot by distinguished cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn, Chance offers a series of stunning views in the virtuoso fashion of the cinéma du look. The camera swirls around the dancers in the streets of Venice and makes 360-degree circuits around a Canadian lighthouse; editing magically nips us from an Italian marble quarry to a New York bar, from Hudson Bay to Mexico. The musical numbers are exuberant.

As in the films of Jean-Jacques Beineix and Luc Besson, advertising and music-video aesthetics are in evidence, for example in the perfectly choreographed montage of Myriam's happiness with Pierre and Serge at the Canadian lighthouse. The scene with the three of them on a three-seater bicycle, laughing as they cycle along the sea edge with wind in their hair, could be selling low-fat margarine or life insurance. In some instances, such as the burning of the lighthouse, the image is pure visual marvel, obscuring whatever emotions the narrative is trying to convey - Myriam's return to the scene of previous happiness and her contemplation of suicide lack poignancy.

With its incredible chances and coincidences, there is something of the fairy tale about this film. Witness the suffering young mother, the angelic child, the villains (the camera thieves), and Prince-Charming men, as well as the tragic accident at sea and the missed opportunities. In one shot, Myriam enters the camera shop in the background while Marc, unaware in the foreground and desperate to find her, talks to the thieves. Situations are so extreme, locations so exotic, the film so well paced, that interest is sustained through sheer cinematic gusto.

But this is where the irritation sets in. The fact that Lelouch mobilises massive cinematic means for an old-fashioned melodrama is fine. The problem is his penchant for overlaying this with a thick layer of 'serious' themes - fate, life, death, God, happiness, grief and truth - whose elaboration is at best superficial. These are articulated partly by a scientist whose theories are tested on the interlocking stories of the fictional characters. Alain Resnais' Mon Oncle d'Amérique employed a similar device, using a real scientist whose theories were arguable but at least verifiable. Here Lelouch gives that role to the peculiar Marc, who is an improbable combination of history lecturer, "futurologist" and stage actor. Similarly, having fate embodied by video technology is potentially interesting if laboured, but ultimately the camera here is more a fashion accessory than an instrument of truth.

Like the film's camera, the role of the on-screen video camera is to record spectacular tourist attractions and to magnify Myriam's beauty. As Catherine, Marc's unfortunate wife, points out to him, "you wouldn't be interested in her [Myriam] if she was ugly, fat and old." Chance or Coincidence is indeed a love letter to Alessandra Martines, Lelouch's wife and the star of his previous two features. The off-screen relationship between star and director lends a complacent home-movie aspect to the film. One can't help wonder, though, at the latent cruelty of a story which sets her up as a woman who has it all, and then brutally takes everything away from her, relishing the spectacle of her sorrowful face and death-driven trajectory.

Lelouch's best films are simple populist tales served by experienced actors able to suggest depth in stereotypical characters: for example Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée in A Man and a Woman (1966), Lino Ventura and Françoise Fabian in La Bonne Année (1973), and Jean-Paul Belmondo in the 1995 Les Misérables (in which Lelouch complicates the plot but nevertheless retains the force of the Victor Hugo drama). Here, only Pierre Arditi is really affecting as the world-weary Pierre, while Martines remains a pretty but hollow icon. The long-standing hostility between Lelouch and French auteurist critics is evoked by Catherine, who says: "Life is a melodrama, but you intellectuals are hopeless at melodrama." The trouble is that this melodrama is too far-fetched and distanced, too "intellectual". Lelouch's films are too convoluted for the "naive stories" he claims to make and too overblown to join the ranks of classic psychological drama à la Claude Sautet. At the same time, despite rivalling Beineix and Besson in the flash and gloss of his images, Lelouch's is a cinema of mature people. Veering between cinéma du look without the youth, sex and violence, and 'quality' cinema without the emotional depth, Chance or Coincidence falls between the two chaisesof contemporary French cinema.


Claude Lelouch
Claude Lelouch
Director of Photography
Pierre-William Glenn
Supervising Editor
Hélène de Luze
Francis Lai
Claude Bolling
©Les Films 13/TF1 Films Production/SDA Productions/UGC Images/Neuilly Productions/FCC
Production Companies
Les Films 13 present a Les Films 13/TF1 Films Production/UGC Images/Neuilly Productions/SDA Productions co-production with the support of FCC and sofica Sofinergie 4 and the participation of Canal +
Québec and Canada sequences produced by SDA Productions Inc with the participation of Téléfilm Canada/SODEC Société de développement des entreprises culturelles/ Gouvernement du Québec (programme de crédits d'impôt du Québec)/Gouvernement du Canada (programme de crédits d'impôt pour production cinématographique ou magnétoscopique canadienne)/Le Bureau du Cinéma et de la Télévision de la Ville de Montréal
Associate Producer
Tania Zazulinsky
André Picard
Suzanne Dussault
Inigo Lezzi
Marie-Christine Lezzi
Mrs Sule Soysal
Faruk Aksoy
Gabriela Chavira-Gélin
Unit Manager
Frédéric Doniguian
Location Manager
Bruno Madesclaire
Assistant Director
Christophe Cheysson
Laurence Couturier
Arlette Gordon
Additional Casting
Célina Blanc
Jean-Claude Vicquery
Special Effects
Art Director
Jacques Bufnoir
Dominique Borg
Key Make-up Artist
Fabrizio Sforza
Key Hair Design
Maria Cascioli
Pilifilms Productions
Claude Bolling
Christian Gaubert
"Hasards et coïncidences" by Anita Vallejo, Pierre Barouh; "Bonsoir jolie madame" by Charles Trénet, performed by Marc Hollogne; "A volta do malandro" by Chico Buarque de Holanda, performed by Bïa; "For All We Know" by Samuel Lewis, J. Fred Coots, Léo Feist, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, performed by Geoffrey Holder; "Cancan" by Cole Porter
Richard Wherlock
Head Sound Manager
Harald Maury
Gérard Rousseau
Jean-Charles Martel
Michel Éloy
Sound Editors
Jean Gargonne
Catherine Buisson
Vincent Guillon
Pascal Chauvin
Pascal Dedeye
Michel Godet
Polar Bear:
Rémy Marion
Alessandra Martines
Myriam Lini
Pierre Arditi
Pierre Turi
Marc Hollogne
Marc Deschamps
Laurent Hilaire
Véronique Moreau
Catherine Desvilles
Patrick Labbé
Michel Bonhomme
Geoffrey Holder
Luigi Bonino
Mauro Lini
France Castel
Italian consulate secretary in Montreal
Arthur Cheysson
Serge Lini
Pierre Manganelli
Cécile Simeone
cinema-theatre actors
Lionel Amadoté
Albert Amphimaque
Raphaelle Delaunay
Charles Lewis
Jean-Aurel Maurice
Aspasia Benavente
Éric Brisebois
Sonia Chatillon
Évelyne De La Chenelière
Georges Convert
Frank Crudele
Stéphane Demers
David La Haye
the thief
Francis Lai
Claude Bolling
Sophie Clément
Gaston Lepage
Charles Gérard
Jacques Lavallée
Vincenzo Martines
Mehmet Özkilic
Jacques Petitjean
Nathalie Riqué
Menderes Samancilar
Johanne-Marie Tremblay
Marc Lasalle
Roger Léger
Charles Maheux
Sylvain Massé
François Papineau
Pascal Parent
Patricia Perez
Tilma Saez
Stéphane Scotto
Julie Thibaudeau
David Trépanier
Denise Bombardier
Maurizo Crovato
Marta Stefani
Giacomo Tranconi
Gala Film Distributors
10,923 feet
121 minutes 22 seconds
Dolby stereo/DTS stereo
In Colour
Anamorphic [Panavision]
A second title frame appears containing
Tragédie ou comédie/Tragedy or Comedy
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011