December 18, 2007
Set in Ireland, Once (2007) tells the story of a busker (Hansard) who plays on the streets of Dublin for change and fixes vacuum cleaners during the day. One night, a Czech woman (Irglova) pays him a compliment for one of his songs. They meet again during the day and she brings her busted vacuum for him to fix. They get to talking and it turns out that she plays the piano and sings. They go to a music shop that she frequents and they play one of his songs. She impresses him with her singing and playing skills.
Director John Carney shoots this scene predominantly in close-ups with a hand-held camera and this really conveys the intimacy of the moment as these two talented musicians bond over a piece of music. The chemistry between them is electric. In fact, the entire film adopts this hand-held camera look and utilizes lighting that gives every scene a very immediate, personal feel as we get to know these two characters.
A friendship develops between them despite a clumsy pass that he makes at her early on. She listens to a CD of his music and agrees to write lyrics to some of his songs. Once realistically depicts how these two musicians put a song together, the time spent getting the lyrics right, and working out the melodies to fit them. The film documents their personal and professional relationship and how they become inevitably intertwined.
The two lead actors are fantastic. Fans of The Commitments film (1991) should recognize the guy as he’s played by Glen Hansard who played Outspan Foster, the guitar player in Alan Parker’s motion picture. He has a great, emotional voice that comes through on the songs that he sings and is reminiscent of Richard Thompson. It gives the music a powerful punch and depth. He plays a character still haunted by a past relationship and this bleeds into his songs. Marketa Irglova brings a quiet, understated charm to her role. It’s a wonderfully unaffected performance and the two of them have terrific chemistry together.
These two musicians compliment each other well, encouraging each other’s musical ideas. Think of this film as The Commitments: Unplugged. Once is one of those rare films where the actors are actually playing their instruments and singing instead of aping along to someone else’s music. Hansard and Irglova are the real deal and this only adds to the enjoyment of the film. Once is personal, heartfelt filmmaking at its finest and a world away from the big budget bombast of a film like Dreamgirls (2006).
There is an audio commentary by writer/director John Carney and actor/musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Carney tends to dominate this track as he talks about the origins of the film’s title. Irglova talks about the challenge of finding her character early on in the shoot. She also got nervous when people stopped to watch her act out a scene. Carney explains why every scene was shot the way it was. He says that he wanted to make a modern musical for a younger, contemporary audience. Hansard talks about his days with Carney in the band, The Frames and how he knew that Carney would go on to become a filmmaker.
All three also provide a commentary for all of the songs in the film. Hansard says that they did the busking scenes early on a Sunday morning to avoid being recognized. One musical performance was done while Hansard was waiting for the lighting gear to be ready and Carney had the camera running and they decided to use it in the film. They talk over each musical number, sometimes telling the origin of a song.
“Making a Modern Day Musical.” Carney says that audiences have connected with the film because of its personal, intimate approach. He and Hansard used to be in a band together but Carney gradually got interested in filmmaking. Originally, Hansard wasn’t going to be in the film but Carney liked the rehearsal footage of him with Irglova.
“More Guy, More Girl” features Carney talking about the initial idea he had for the film. Cast and crew talk about making it with plenty of on-the-set footage which gives some insight into the creative process. Everyone speaks fondly of the filmmaking experience.
“Webisodes” features one of the songs from the film done to really low-tech, stickman drawing animation.