a review by Tom Condon, OP
The amazing thing about this independent, low budget Irish film
is how unique it is. When the summer movie scene is full of
sequels and remakes, Once is a breath of fresh air.
The plot of Once is deceptively simple. It centers
on an unnamed street musician in Dublin (simply known as “The
Guy”) who meets an unnamed young woman (“The Girl”)
who stops one evening to admire his music. The Guy is a tall,
bearded red-headed Irishman who works in his father’s vacuum
cleaner repair shop when he’s not writing music and singing and
playing his beat-up guitar on the street. He also lives above
the shop with his father. The Guy has just ended a relationship
with a woman who has moved to London.
The Girl is a young, dark haired Czech who came to Ireland with her
mother and young daughter, leaving her husband behind. The Girl
sells flowers on the street to bring in some income. It turns
out that the Girl is also a musician. A kind man in a music store
allows her to come in and play one of his pianos, since she cannot
afford one. She also writes music.
The Guy and the Girl recognize each other as kindred spirits. They
share their dreams, their stories of love and pain. Most of all,
they share their passion for music; the more they talk about and play
their music, the more they come to reveal about themselves. Much
of the final third of the film takes place at a recording studio, where
the Guy and the Girl, along with three fellow street musicians, spend
an exhausting but satisfying weekend recording a CD.
Once is a brief 90 minutes. It’s considerable charm is
in just spending time with these two people, talking, laughing, and making
music. Since it centers almost exclusively on one couple, Once is
very intimate. The actor and actress (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova)
who play the leads are actually musicians who wrote the music they sing. This
factor contributes to the authenticity of the film. I never felt like
I was watching actors on a set. Once has the feel of a low budget
documentary, observing the gritty streets and tiny apartments of modern, urban
Ireland. The edge and authenticity of Once keep it from
being at all sentimental.
It took me a while to be able to understand the heavy Irish accents. I
admit that I did not catch all the lyrics to the songs. Still
I was drawn in, and understood more as my ear became used to the accent. Like
a great old musical, the music flows naturally from the characters. No
big production numbers, just heart felt songs about love and loss. On
my next viewing (which I’m looking forward to) I’ll try
to understand more. Like a good melody, this is a film that stays
in your head.
Once is hardly a classic love story. I must say that I
appreciate the restraint shown here. The couple does not become sexually
involved, as so frequently happens in contemporary films, even though they
are obviously attracted to each other and consider sleeping together. They
know they are both on the rebound, and have decisions to make about relationships. Even
though Once focuses so much on the Guy and the Girl, they don’t
live in a vacuum. There are other people in their lives they love and
care for. Yet, during the course of the film, the couple find one
another and create something beautiful together: the music of which they
are so proud. Perhaps as much as anything else, Once is a testimony
to the creative power of love. The gift he gives her at the end of the
film is a wonderful symbol of their creative love.
I recommend that you spend 90 minutes getting to know this Guy and
this Girl. Listen to their passionate, edgy sound. You
won’t soon forget this unique, nameless couple and the music
they made together.
Tom Condon, OP