Once – Movie Review


Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, from Once.


OK, so Once is almost a year old now, but it took Best Song at the Academy Awards a couple weeks ago.  No luck picking up the Best Film Compilation Soundtrack at the Grammy’s last month.  The Beatles won–go figure.

Once is a unique musical, namely for its low budget trappings.  You won’t find glitter, dance numbers, or campy dialogue sung to invisible orchestras in this movie.  The film follows the brief musical collaboration and romance of a heartbroken street musician and a czech pianist, listed in the credits as “Guy” and “Girl.” 

The plot is ingeniously simple: guy meets girl; girl convinces guy to fix her vacuum cleaner; guy convinces girl to record an album with him.

The film stars 37-year-old Glen Hansard and 19-year old Marketa Irglova.  He’s the frontman of the popular Irish band, The Frames; she’s a czech pianist who began writing music after some encouragement from Hansard.  Neither are professional actors–in fact, both say they probably won’t act again.  Initially, they signed on to produce the soundtrack, but when the budget fell through, Hansard and Irglova agreed to play the roles.  Both were among the few members of the film to be paid up front–the crew was promised profit sharing.

Despite their lack of training, the onscreen chemistry between Hansard and Irglova drives much of the film.  The romantic bond they develop is subtle and complicated, and possibly unsatisfying to those who prefer the Sweet Home Alabama/Failure to Launch/The Wedding Planner approach to love stories. Hansard admits he was falling in love with his costar before the film started shooting, and the two are reportedly dating now.  

Made for $160,000 by Irish director John Carney, the production of Once is a lesson in independent filmmaking in its own right.  Carney used no professional actors, filming permits (and there are many Dublin street scenes), or custom sets.  He used telephoto lenses to shoot many scenes from long distances, so the actors and random pedestrians didn’t always know when they were being filmed.  Carney also used natural light to save money on costly and cumbersome lighting rigs.  Supporting roles were played by his friends and family; the locations include Hansard’s own flat in Dublin.

The soundtrack is gorgeous, and stands on its own.  Truly amazing.

Well, that’s all.  Go rent it.  Meow. 


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