“Once” not enough for a small treasure like this
Second-time director John Carney refers to his film “Once” as an “art house musical.” If there have been other films that fall into this genre, none come to mind. But his little film about the transforming power of music is not only pioneering, it is certainly one of the best films of the year. “Once” has already won the Sundance Film Festival’s audience award, and now it deserves a bigger audience.
In Dublin we meet an Irish street musician (or “busker”) named Glen Hansard who has the perfect voice for his earnest folk/rock melodies. Glen meets kindred spirit Marketa Irglova who admires his abilities and is herself a gifted pianist. But the two share more than musicianship. He’s a bit lost after seeing his girlfriend leave him and move to London, while Marketa is a young Czech mother who is separated from her husband and makes her living selling flowers on the street. Glen fixes her vacuum cleaner and the two make a connection (but not necessarily a romantic one).
In one of “Once’s” most inspiring scenes, the two go to a small music store so she can play along on the piano while he teaches her one of his songs. It’s a beautiful, unscripted moment. Yes, the song “Falling Slowly” is compelling, but how all the melodious elements align so naturally and, well, harmoniously, is something that will speak to anyone who has ever made an attempt at musical conception.
The handheld camera technique works perfectly here, giving the film a home video quality by offering the viewer a fly-on-the-wall view of two people with a shared passion for music finding their way through a budding friendship of attraction, discovery, mutual respect, and bonding.
Besides being a different kind of musical, one that feels organic and improvised, “Once” isn’t a typical love story either, which makes it all the more endearing. The two leads are musicians first and actors second, so it’s easy to see why they connected off-screen as a singer-songwriting team. (Hansard leads the Irish band the Frames and the two made a record before the film started shooting.)
Imagine discovering early tapes of Lennon & McCartney, Simon & Garfunkel, or Buckingham & Nicks and being able to watch them create music together. “Once” captures the rare chemistry and unforced artistry of two people finding musical as well as personal harmony together and we are lucky enough to be there to watch it.
Rated R for use of the F-word only