Once (2006)

DVD Cover (Fox Searchlight)
Genres: Musical, Musical Drama, Slice Of Life
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John Carney John Carney
Glen Hansard Glen Hansard
Markéta Irglová Markéta Irglová
Hugh Walsh Hugh Walsh
Gerard Hendrick Gerard Hendrick
Alaistair Foley Alaistair Foley

7.8 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: December 22, 2007
Contemporary musicals are difficult, next to impossible, to pull off these days. Now, I don't mean big budget musicals like "Rent" or "Sweeney Todd" or "Dreamgirls" - I am talking about musicals written specifically for film, with contemporary themes. You might not know what I'm talking about, simply because you've never seen one. They are a rare breed. Most recently, I had the chance to see a film called "Colma: The Musical", which made a lot of noise on the festival circuit and was an original piece. I gave it a chance, and though I disliked a lot about it, I applauded their efforts to try something grande on such a small scale. Such is the same with the motion picture "Once", which might be one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of the year. It was released in mid-2007 to immense critical and commercial acclaim and snuck up on most movie going audiences with its unique blend of romantic drama and Irish folk rock songs that are just as pleasing to the ear as the images in this film are pleasing to the eyes. "Once" proves that a contemporary musical can be successful and effective. On a shoestring budget of $150,000 dollar, director John Carney roped in his friend and former bandmate Glen Hansard and some other friends to create this musical romantic drama that is nothing short of exceptional. It truly is one of the most original, innovative and moving pictures of this year, or any other.

Set in Dublin, the film follows a musician simply known as Guy (Glen Hansard). During the day, he works for his father fixing Hoover vacuum cleaners. By night, he roams the sidewalks of the city, playing his original music and taking whatever few cents are tossed his way for his efforts. He has just moved back to Dublin to help out his father, after the death of his mother. He left behind a girl whom he misses very much and for whom he writes most of his songs. One evening, he meets another musician simply known as Girl (Marketa Irglova), who likes his music very much. She's a Czech, he's Irish, but they both hit it off and, eventually, they start writing and playing music together. Their relationship is on a very deep level, but they never actually turn it into anything sordid or romantic. It stays very professional, with just a hint of longing for something that can probably never be. The film is about their burgeoning relationship, told through a collection of songs that stir the soul, featuring Glen Hansard's amazing vocal range and Marketa Irglova's haunting vocals and beautiful piano playing. They make beautiful music together. Depending on your definition of the term, the film ends on a somewhat down note, with the two going their separate ways, but what they've created together will last forever, which it seems is the underlying motivation of the film. Their music will last forever. Guy's gesture to Girl right before he leaves - the gift he gives her - seems cliche on the surface, but goodness did it have me smiling from ear to ear.

You don't get much smaller, in terms of budget and scope, than "Once". Shot on a single digital camera with a skeleton crew, the film was shot whenever they could get everyone together. Director John Carney intentionally chose shooting most of the scenes from a distance because he didn't want the camera to intimidate the actors. He wanted a naturalistic feel, and boy did he achieve it brilliantly. You feel like you're watching a relationship inside a bottle or something - like you're watching these two people and you're the only person in the world privileged to the secret information therein. The musical numbers, though you would probably call them performances, are expertly crafted, though simply done. Take, for example, Hansard's opening number on the sidewalk in Dublin, with the camera ever so sneakily coming in for a close-up, his vocals wailing, his hands spinning with rhythm. You are totally fixated on the performance, and nothing. Then the camera shifts back and we see the second half of this film in the corner, standing there in awe, just like we are watching it. One of my favorite sequences comes during the recording session, when Girl has retreated to a back room to examine the piano, and is followed by Guy. He asks her to play an original song for him, and she obliged, but can't even get through the entire song because it upsets her so badly. We see in that scene that these are two people longing for past loves, whose longing will never allow them to make anything of what is right in front of them. This is not a sad revelation - it's just one that doesn't fall in line with conventional Hollywood ideas of the happy ending.

As far as the performances go, they work on all levels. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are musicians, not actors. This is the first film to their credits. I do hope they continue to pursue acting because both deliver mesmerizing and gentle performances that should absolutely go noticed when the Academy goes about their nominating. Hansard and Irglova are the film, so if they don't work, the film doesn't work. If their relationship seems forced, the film fails. Everything about their chemistry together works like a charm, and they become so instantly likable and instantly relatable, we can't help full fall in love right along with them. And, as I have already mentioned before, I dare you to find fault with their musical performances in the film. Their voices and instrumentations blend together so beautifully. I ran out and purchased the soundtrack before I saw the film, so I was already familiar with the songs, which made it all the more enjoyable for me. I kept waiting to hear my favorite tracks and then watching in awe as the simplest approach was used in conveying them. "Once" is a film that just made me so happy throughout, and it's one I am still thinking about. I can't believe it took me so long to finally see this. It's one of the best films of this year, or any other. It's a masterpiece.

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