by RISHI AGRAWAL
Watching Once is like listening to your favorite album for the first time and instantly falling in love. Over the past week or so, I have had the songs from this movie stuck in my head. The crazy thing is that it’s not one particular song or moment – it’s all of them. This is an unconventional musical in the sense that people do not break into big choreographed dance sequences. For the most part, when we have music in the film, the characters are actually playing instruments and singing. If all you want out of a summer film is big-budget special effects and action sequences, then this is not the film for you. The cinematography is restricted to a hand-held camera work, which gives the film a genuine feel.
Once is about the chance meeting of two musicians in the streets of Dublin, who are unnamed but listed in the credits as “Guy” and “Girl.” The guy is played by Glen Hansard, whose only other film credit is The Commitments, where he played the guitarist. Hansard is perhaps better known as the front man for the Irish band, The Frames. The girl is played by Markéta Irglová, a young musician from Prague who collaborated with Hansard on an album The Swell Season.
Both characters are not only the type of people you want to watch on film for the duration of the movie, but people you want to actually meet and befriend. The guy is a vacuum cleaner repairman who also works as a street musician. He is hung up on his ex-girlfriend and is somewhat aimless when the film opens. The girl is a friendly and aggressive recent immigrant from the Czech Republic who cleans houses and sells roses on the street. She lives with her mother and daughter, but cannot afford a piano.
The guy and girl meet when she hears him playing on the street and asks him about his music. She finds out that he fixes vacuum cleaners and happens to have a broken vacuum cleaner, which she brings to him the next day, which leads to them dragging a vacuum cleaner through the streets of Dublin
Shortly afterward, they have their first collaboration as they go to a music shop where the owner lets the girl play the piano. The guy pulls out his guitar, which looks like it is barely held together as if someone left it at the dump. The guy quickly teaches the girl the song, and then they perform together. I have to tell you that this could be one of the most beautiful moments I have even seen on film.
Other scenes work visually as well. There are very few cuts in the film giving us the sense that we are watching an almost live performance. Even when we don’t directly see the performance, the music works with the visuals. In one scene, the guy watches videos of his ex-girlfriend while singing about the end of the relationship. During another song, we watch the girl walking down the street in a bathrobe and fuzzy animal slippers listening to headphones, in a long tracking shot.
The relationship between the guy and the girl is realistic in the sense that it is indefinite. We are never quite sure if their relationship is romantic or if they are just friends. The guy is rebuffed by the girl early on and, after that point, we are never sure if they are simply interested in the music or if there is something deeper than that. As musicians, they are quite talented. In fact, as almost everything about the film is genuine, so is the music. Hansard and Irglová wrote and performed nearly all the songs in the film.
The movie does one thing that has always bothered me. The characters in the film who listen to the music all think it is brilliant, which could be annoying since we can actually hear the music ourselves and decide whether or not it is great music. If the music wasn’t amazing, the film’s credibility would be thrown out the window. Fortunately, though I do not feel I know as much about music as movies, I still find the music absolutely stunning.
I think it would be impossible to like the film if you do not like the music. Before watching the movie, do yourself a favor and go to the film’s official website, where all the songs are streamed. Hopefully, you will have the same experience I had.