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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Review: Once (2007)

* * * *

Director: John Carney
Starring: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova

Once is a beautiful little gem of a film, a simple story told in a simple way and yet more effective and moving than about 90% of the big-budget, big-name movies that get tossed out in any given year. It’s kind of a shame that it was released in 2007, which saw such an abundance of great films, rather than 2008, which has paled in comparison and in which a “little film that could” would stand a better chance at Oscar glory.

Once is filmed in a very realist style, with handheld cameras, natural lighting and dialogue that has an off-the-cuff feel to it. It consists of two characters credited as “Guy” and “Girl,” two ordinary people brought together by their love of making music. Guy (Glen Hansard) is a musician who divides his time between busking and working at his father’s vacuum repair shop. One of his late-night performances catches the attention of Girl (Marketa Irglova), who seeks him out the following day in the hope that he can fix her vacuum. After some cautious back and forth, Guy learns that she plays the piano and convinces her to give him a demonstration. They go to a nearby music store and play one of Guy’s songs together (“Falling Slowly,” a beautiful piece which won the Oscar for Best Song), falling in love in the process. It’s a beautiful thing... but there are complications.

She lives with her mother and young daughter and she has a husband who still lives in the Czech Republic. Far from being over, the marriage is instead in a state of limbo, which presents something of a problem for Guy, who has fallen for her pretty hard and wants her to go to London with him, where he hopes to get his break. Though she isn’t free to be with him, she will make music with him and after renting a studio they enlist a trio of buskers to complete their band and record a demo.

Hansard and Irglova, musicians by trade rather than actors, glow as they’re performing and the songs have a certain unmanufactured magic to them. Acting-wise, Irglova is a bit stiff in the scenes where she isn’t performing, but Hansard seems to be a natural. There’s one scene in particular that’s especially well-done by Hansard: Guy, lonely and desperate to connect, asks Girl to spend the night with him and is rejected. The moment is almost hard to watch because Hansard allows Guy to be so intensely vulnerable, and I think there are a number of trained actors who couldn’t have pulled it off so well.

Writer/director John Carney allows the action to unfold in a very unobtrusive way, letting the story be guided by the flow of the music. It’s very much a performance film and it starts to feel more like watching a great little concert than a movie the longer it goes on. What you end up with is a very special and very wonderful movie of the kind you don’t see very often. If you haven’t seen it yet, go out and get it – you won’t regret it.

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