Tuesday 4 May 2010

Once (Review)

Most of the films I’ve reviewed so far in this space have been either movies I’d already seen and wanted to enjoy again, or famous titles I couldn’t watch at the cinema at the time of their release. Since I am a member of Love Film, a UK-based DVD rental company, I take full advantage of their vast and eclectic collection and Sunday nights have become for my wife and me our weekly rendezvous with the world of cinemascope.

Occasionally, though, I choose randomly a movie I’ve never heard of. The motivation can based on the DVD’s cover design, or the synopsis, or the genre in which it is included, whatever the reason is, the process is totally unpremeditated and the result is often satisfactory. That was the case with ‘Once’, an Irish film.

This modern-day musical tells the story of a busker on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. One day, a Czech girl stops to listen to him and, impressed by the emotional frankness of his compositions, tries to find out more about his music and what spurs him to write it. It turns out the street performer (at no point is he or the woman given names) helps his dad repair vacuum cleaners, though his heart is set on becoming a recording musician. By happenstance the Czech’s Hoover is faulty and this gives her the perfect excuse to create a bond with the busker. She also has a musical background of her own; she plays the piano and writes songs. Romance blossoms but dangers lie ahead. The Irish lad is attempting to recover from a break-up with his long-term girlfriend who’s upped sticks and moved to London. For the Czech woman the situation is even more complicated; she is raising a young daughter in Ireland and her husband is trying to join them both.

Once’ is one of those movies that leaves the viewer with a spring in their step. Told through the power of music, it unites two people whose personal circumstances are poles apart. The man still lives at home with his father and although he finds it hard to make ends meet, his situation is very different from the Czech woman. She is an immigrant, doing odd jobs here and there (at one point she works as a florist), living at home with her mother and daughter, in a squalid flat where there’s no telephone and everyone has to share one bedroom. Every evening a group of lads come down to her apartment to watch telly since hers is the only one in the building. Money is tight, not to say almost non-existent. Yet, she doesn’t let this situation bring her down. She usually sports a wide grin on her face and becomes the driving force in the busker’s musical enterprise. It’s thanks to her efforts that the musician puts a demo together in the hope of getting a contract.

The script is excellent. I loved its nuances and subtleties. In a move that I imagine might have been a bit awkward with the film’s backers, the writer/director John Carney refuses to let the romance follow its natural course. And to me that’s one of the reasons why ‘Once’ pull its weight way above the current crop of Jennifer Anistonesque rom-coms: the movie is unpredictable. What the director gives us instead is the power of friendship, the gradations of love. In this endeavour he is helped by the superb performances of both Glen Hansard, frontman of the band ‘Frames’ (coincidentally the director John Carney used to play bass in the same group), in the busker’s role and Markéta Irglová as the Czech woman. The latter, especially, displays such a natural, organic thespian knack that it’s hard to believe she was only nineteen when the movie was released. Script and acting are supported throughout the film by a great soundtrack where tracks ‘Falling Slowly’ and ‘The Hill’ blend magnificently with the grey Dublin landscape.

In the end the busker shoots off to London in an attempt to re-build his life with his ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile the Czech woman has just received news from her husband that he will finally be joining her and their daughter soon. The final shot is an ode to hope, love and above all friendship.

Copyright 2010

Next Post: 'Living in a Bilingual World', to be published on Thursday 6th May at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Sounds like something I would enjoy. Will keep my eye out for it. Thanks for the tip and review.

  2. Good choice - loved, loved, loved it. Smart and sweet film!

  3. Thank you for the suggestion. This sounds like a subtle film. I'll order it on Netflix.

  4. I think this is so interesting because I had heard such raves about this movie. Then I saw it and wondered what the clamoring was about.
    Only later did I realize that I had totally, as in totally, ignored the music. And it was clear, once again, how separated I am from music. I was totally 'watching' it, not hearing it, immune to the way the music was designed to lead me along. (My daughter has dyslexia, more serious than mine, and was tested for auditory discrimination problems. I'm sure that I have it also. The best I can do is understand that Bach and Mozart are high structures and comforting, even though i can't remember what I just, three minutes ago, heard...)
    What I was capable of noticing was the completely unusual way of ignoring the 'standard' Hollywood predictable endings! Oh, that was wonderful.
    I have been watching Saturday late afternoon films with two friends. We saw a film that just captured me. I think it's called "The Good Heart", (not that dumb Hollywood thing heart thing..but a Norwegian film with a fabulous English actor (my daughter's favorite actor who I'd never heard of and don't remember the name of). Oh, it was so inventive (as well as beautiful...
    But last week, because my woman friend doesn't really like the films that her husband and I like, we watched one that her daughter chose about the Morgan's something, something with Sarah Jessica Parker (oh, she's so skinny and played such a wretched spoiled character that anyone with any sense would have smacked her, except that pudgy old Hugh Grant was playing her besotted husband...) I could barely stand sitting there because I knew the plot before it unfolded...and wondered whether I have time left to watch this wretched stuff with my dear friend who has uncomfortably sat though the films that I find endearing and meaningful.
    so, it's it awful to be getting so selfish?
    thank you, Cuban, again...

  5. I meant that Bach and Mozart are highly structure..sorry about spelling mistake!
    thanks again..

  6. We watched this film a couple of years ago, while we were still in Malaysia and loved it! I love the main song, it is very nice.

  7. I missed this film but saw the wonderful preview in the theater. Thanks for reminding me that this was one I wanted to see. I like actors who look like real people and films about music. I prefer this type of film to the block busters too. Will add to my Netflix queue.

    Interesting tour of KL too in the post below! Thanks for sharing.

  8. I saw this sweet film about a year ago..it had something of a good reputation around here..your review is perfect..makes me want to watch it again..thanks!

  9. One thing about living in America is that I often miss out on or don't even hear about the independent films going on in Europe. I've got so much to catch up on.

    I'll have to check this film out. Thanks for letting me know, Cuban.


  10. Many thanks for your wonderful comments.

    Greetings from London.

  11. A friend of mine recommended this to me a while back. She fell in love with it, then bought the soundtrack. I don't know why I never saw it, but it looks remarkable. I think I'll definitely put it on the To Do list. Thanks for your recommendation!

  12. I've seen this advertised a few times, but never thought to watch it. Thanks for the review, will try to catch it sometime soon.

  13. I'll rent it again. Remember liking it first time around. Two others that are a bit quirky that I've really enjoyed are both by Tom McCarthy: 'The Station Agent' & 'The Visitor'- both leave you with a smile on your face and a joyful heart. Have you seen these already?

  14. I absolutely loved this film. Like you, I loved how unpredictable it was. It's so subtle and gentle, and really does leave you with a smile on your face.

    And this morning I was trying on a wedding dress, and the first song they sing together came on the store's hi-fi :)

  15. No, I haven't seen those movies, Maggie, but thanks a lot for your recommendation. I will check them out.

    Many thanks to everyone for your comments.

    Greetings from London.



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