Directed by John Carney
(Note: Parts of this review were taken from a write-up done at the Sundance Film Festival)
It’s hard to find fault with a movie that’s so down-to-earth and real, never going the “Hollywood route” at times when it would be so easy to do. It’s obviously the kind of movie that could only have been made by someone who knows something about making music and has experienced heartbreak first-hand. The characters, their emotions and their story are so vivid, grabbing you from the first time the two meet, and keeping you rapt at their every word. Carney found the perfect subjects for this story in Hansard, a former bandmate who appeared as part of “The Commitments”, and Markéta Irglová, who collaborated musically with Hansard on an album called “The Swell Season”, which presumably helped build the chemistry that’s so key to making the relationship between these characters work. The fact that neither of them is a trained actor makes their characters seem very natural and real, Glen as a jaded and bitter musician and Markéta as his quirky and precocious friend, the perfect couple despite their age difference. There are so many scenes between them that will make you smile and laugh, and it’s hard not to think of movies like “Before Sunset,” as you watch them walk through the streets of Dublin, the precocious Markéta dragging a vacuum cleaner behind her.
There’s a lot of talking, but the movie’s more driven by the memorable songs written by the duo, so anyone not convinced by their connection in the first few minutes after their meeting will be sold once they sit at a piano in a music shop and sing a gorgeous (and frankly quite perfect) song called “Falling Slowly.” The way this initially awkward relationship evolves from there is intriguing, as they work on songs together, going into the studio over a single weekend to try to put together some songs with a back-up band they also found on the streets. As someone who has spent many hours in a recording studio, I can certainly vouch for the accuracy of these scenes, and Carney is able to capture the studio experience better than any other movie in recent memory.
Using mostly handheld digital cameras, “Once” never pretends to be more than it is, a simple story about a fledgling relationship, and even the pacing of Carney’s unpretentious film is close to perfection, in that he knows when to have the character speak their mind and when to have them sing it. There’s really only one spot where this transition might seem forced, when Markéta walks out of a shop singing along to a song on her Walkman, but it’s such a moment full of musical emotionone of manythat you can quickly forgive the film’s venture into the realms of the music video. Audiences used to being spoon-fed the sort of sugary sweet perfect endings Hollywood’s so good at might bristle at Carney’s vague ending, but it’s also so much like real life in that you never know what might happen next, in this case after the uncharacteristically high-tech crane shot that ends the movie.
The Bottom Line: