“A Chance Encounter” – Lucky [MOVIE REVIEW]

Paul Petersen and Andrea von Kampen in "A Chance Encounter." Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“A Chance Encounter” is the very definition of a small film, in all of the best ways. Directed by Alexander Jeffery in his feature debut, and written by Jeffery and his frequent producing partner Paul Petersen who also stars, the movie feels very personal. Petersen plays Hal opposite folk singer Andrea von Kampen playing Josie, coincidentally a folk singer. They meet by chance in Taormina, Sicily where he has gone to write poetry and she has gone in search of the inspiration to compose a follow up song to her one hit. Playing her guitar on a wall overlooking the countryside, Hal, entranced by her singing, tries to put 5 in her guitar case. He knows that song and thinks she’s done a great cover of it. Imagine his surprise to find that she was the “real thing.”

Andrea von Kampen and Paul Petersen in “A Chance Encounter.” Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

They hit it off and gradually, over the week that Hal has left on his trip, they bond over their insecurities, dreams, and little secrets. She proposes that they spend it as a “writers’ retreat.” Josie is stuck and Hal is looking for something but he’s not sure what.

The awkwardness of these two in their surroundings and often between themselves feels personal. Hal instinctively knows who Josie is and Josie sees Hal in a way that he doesn’t. Theirs is an innocent relationship, guided primarily by Josie who, it turns out, has a long-term boyfriend, away at the present but soon to return. But like her music, her relationship is stuck. He wants to marry, she doesn’t. 

The underlying theme of “A Chance Encounter” is simple. “We all want more and don’t use what we’ve got.” As Hal points out to Josie, she either is in love with him or she isn’t.

Gratefully, Jeffery and Petersen, as writers, play on the intellectual chemistry shared by the main characters, leaving their relationship platonic. It’s not that there isn’t an undercurrent of sexual attraction, but it’s left unsaid and unacted upon. They are soulmates, and that is enough, at least for now. Josie is more evolved and courageous than Hal, still stuck in his inability to trust his talent, but she, too, is mired in the doubt of her inability to come up with something new. Each, in his or her own way, views success as judged by others instead of by themselves.

Paul Petersen and Andrea von Kampen in “A Chance Encounter.” Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

One of the ways this all works, counterintuitively, is in the somewhat clumsy acting. Neither has any real acting experience to speak of. Petersen’s work has primarily been collaborating with Jeffery, sometimes as a writer, often as a producer, and occasionally as an actor, in short films. Von Kampen is a folk singer and wrote much of the music for the film. “A Chance Encounter” might have flowed more smoothly if the two leads had been more comfortable on the screen but, on the other hand, it could well have lost some of the charm that was enhanced by their very self-consciousness. 

A film about two people meeting by accident is definitely as old as the volcano on Taormina, but the fact that it was more about intellectual and personal growth than sex makes it rather unique. I was charmed.

Opening October 28 at the Laemmle Glendale and On Demand.



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