Film review by: Witney Seibold


            “Once” is one of the best films of the year. It is quiet and beautiful and reaches emotional level most films don’t even try for. It uses music better than most musicals I have seen, allowing the songs to tell the emotional story and feeling of romance, rather than dialogue or cheap romcom meetcutes. It is sweet and romantic and moving. It has become something of a sleeper hit this year, and it deserves the praise it has been getting.

            “Once” tells the story of an Irish street musician (credited only as “Guy” and played by Glen Hansard) who plays standards during the day, but more personal songs at night. Drawn by his music, he is approached by “Girl” (Markéta Irglová) a Czech immigrant who is also musically gifted. They are obviously attracted to one another, and they are genial and friendly, but it’s his music she is interested in. She takes him to a music shop, and they play one of his songs together, he on guitar, she on piano. The song is heartbreaking and gorgeous. They both recognize that they share a special musical bond, and agree to work on recording an album.


            They get to know one another. He works in a Hoover shop. She works as a housekeeper. She has an estranged husband and a small daughter, and lives in a cheap apartment. He lives in a tiny room above his dad’s shop. He foolishly asks her to bed, but they both immediately recognize how wrong the request is. We see him writing down him music, and enthusiastically sharing it with her, finally a person who will listen and appreciate it. She’s enthused to find a talent that matches her own. There’s a very sweet scene in which she scrapes up some pocket change out of her daughter’s piggybank in order to buy batteries for her portable CD play, just so she can hear a disc of his music, and write lyrics.


            They eventually record his music. It sounds great. They love it. They love each other, obviously.


            But the film is not a stickly sentimental romantic musical comedy. It’s not about their friendship, really, nor is it about the tentative romance they may share, but about the special, extremely deep bond they have through their mutual shining talent. And that extends beyond meeting cute and “being good friends.” It expresses love beyond the typical romance. It is not a love they can really have (she has a husband, he’s too old and wants to move to London), but their music allows them to co-inhabit an emotional plane they both rarely occupy.


            “Once” is constructed like a typical musical of the Let’s Put On A Show genre, but it plays more like an opera. It tells its story not through events or dialogue, but through emotions. And the emotions are only pure (and beautiful) when the characters sing. The lyrics are not even about the characters at hand (they’re most about a breakup that “Guy” had years before), but we see and hear what is really going on. It was canny of writer/director John Carney to cast honest-to-goodness musicians in the lead roles, as we can see true and genuine talent, and not staged glitzy numbers.


            Please see “Once.” A film of this scrappy filmmaking skill and gorgeous-yet-quiet operatic emotions rarely comes along.

             Another note: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are now touring. I guess their synergy wasn’t manufactured merely for the screen. Oh, and I hear they’re dating now. When do you get to see a film of someone actually falling in love on camera?

Published in: on July 12, 2007 at 8:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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