If you want to really know someone, let them tell you their story.
Directed by Alexander Jeffery, A Chance Encounter tells the story of Hal (Paul Peterson), an aspiring poet who sets out in the Sicilian town of Toarmina to find inspiration. Along the way, Hal encounters Josie Day (Andrea von Kampen), a respected folk singer who is also working on her next project. Josie immediately feels responsible for her new friend and the two begin to bond in their travels. But, as secrets are revealed, the potential for a relationship may remain as stunted as the writer’s block that plagues them both.
Set in the heart of Italy, there’s a sweetness and charm to A Chance Encounter which keeps it interesting, even in moments when the film seems to fall flat. Well-written and executed, this is a story designed to charm the viewer with its stunning scenery, adorable meet-cute set-up and artistic whimsy.
And, frankly, one can’t deny that there is a beauty about the film that remains enticing.
As Hal and Josie share their artistic expressions with one another, Encounter feels like a personal love letter to the creative process. Even as he builds up the romance, Jeffery never loses sight of the power of the arts and allows it to remain front and center to the storytelling. (In fact, one could argue that we even wait with more expectancy for the next poem or song than we do resolution to the ‘will they/won’t they’ storyline.)
Interestingly, it’s also worth noting that both Peterson and von Kampen contributed their own art to their respective characters. Whereas von Kampen performs her own original music, what might be more surprising is that Peterson also wrote all of the poetry for his character as well. In doing so, there’s a certain level of intimacy of expression that comes across in the performances that adds to the piece overall. .) Their willingness to share their souls makes Encounter feel genuine in a way that reciting words from the screenwriter does not. (For example, Peterson as said that he didn’t hear von Kampen’s final song until the moment she performed it, giving his character a more authentic response.)
As Hal and Josie respectively, Peterson and von Kampen offer engaging performances that help the film along. Peterson has a natural humility onscreen that brings Hal to life while von Kampen has an affability and quirkiness that serves her character as well. However, where Encounter struggles (somewhat ironically) are the scenes together. Although their individual performances are fine, there chemistry together is suspect at times in ways that can detract from the romantic angle.
Having said that though, Encounter has such whimsy embedded in its setting that it can often gloss over its flaws. In many ways, the film feels like a travel log of the Italian culture. Emphasizing fantastic food, wine and scenery, one can’t help but fall in love with the setting. What’s more, the film uses this to its advantage by emphasizing its belief that everywhere here is filled with history. There is a genuine sense within Encounterthat stories echo throughout eternity, whether it’s Italian history or the measure of a poem.
In this way, Jeffery’s script emphasizes the importance of sharing our experiences with one another. As Hal and Josie offer their art to one another, there’s an intimacy that builds between them. There’s a recognition that the stories they share offer pieces of their soul.
Fused with its European culture that surrounds them, this message of intimacy makes it hard to deny the charm of this Encounter. But it’s also one that you may not want to give a second Chance.
A Chance Encounter is available on VOD/Digital on Friday, October 28th, 2022.