Monday, March 5, 2012

100 Movies - No. 66: Once

66. Once (2006)
Drama, Music, Romance, 85 minutes
Directed by John Carney
Starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

The opening scene in Once shows a guy (Hansard) busking. The song is unremarkable, but a few people like it and give him their change. Then, two minutes later, something incredible happens. We see the guy singing at night when the streets are virtually deserted. Although he's alone, he's pouring his heart out using his beaten up guitar and raspy voice.

I was hooked from that moment on.

When the guy looks up, there's a girl (Irglova) standing there listening. We never learn their names. It's as if the story is more important than the people in it. She gives him 10 cents and they begin talking. He works with his father in a vacuum cleaner repair shop and she has a vacuum cleaner in need of repair. When she brings it the following day, she treats it like a dog on a leash.

The two have lunch together and she takes him to a music shop where the owner allows her to play piano. When she plays a piece by Mendelssohn, the guy's jaw drops open in astonishment. She invites him to join her on his guitar and he teaches her how to play one of his songs. That's how they begin their friendship.

The setting is Dublin and life isn't easy. The guy and the girl don't have much money. But what does shine through is the Irish sense of community. They love life and the people seem genuine and real. That description also applies to Once.

The film was shot on a budget of around £100,000 using two Handycam camcorders, but you'll quickly forget that and focus on the story.

The guy has broken up with his girlfriend and she has moved to London. The girl married at a young age, but her husband is back in the Czech Republic and has left her. So there's the possibility of romance and I won't ruin what happens for anyone who hasn't seen the film. What's even more important is their shared love of music. The two have a real connection and she wants to help him reach a wider audience by negotiating the use of a local music studio for the weekend.

There are two wonderful reactions later in the film. One comes from Eamon, who is an audio technician at the studio; the other comes from the guy's dad when the guy plays him a CD.

The special features mention that over half the film is told through the use of song, but this is not a musical. The songs never make you step outside the story and they come across as totally natural. As well as music, there's plenty of dry humor, but the story is mainly about relationships and pursuing your dreams.

Once is one of the most heartwarming stories that I have ever seen. The song Falling Slowly won the Oscar for best song and Hansard and Irglova have toured under the name The Swell Season. It just goes to show that you don't need to spend millions in order to make a film that touches people, and this touched me more than most.

In a world which rewards artists with the right look and a manufactured sound, it's refreshing to see people with real passion succeed.

The UK Blu-ray is region free, although the special features are audio only unless you use a region B or region free player. 

If you like Once:

There is nothing quite like the experience offered by Once, but Crazy Heart is worth checking out. Jeff Bridges finally won an Oscar for his portrayal of Bad Blake; a musician with a history of alcoholism and broken relationships.

For another movie about music in Dublin, I would suggest The Commitments. It's about an Irish band wanting to play soul music. Glen Hansard plays the part of Outspan Foster.

If you want to know more about Hansard and Irglova, The Swell Season is a 91-minute documentary documenting their world tour.

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  1. Lovely review. I didn't LOVE Once, but it still is a nice, charming little movie. The songs are great.

  2. Hi Fernando,

    It seems that few people love it, but I had to include it because I always have a strong reaction to it. I'm glad it wasn't a total waste of time for you.