She is a Czech immigrant who sees him singing with his guitar at night in the streets of
They later go to a music store and she asks him to sing one of his songs. He hesitates at first but she offers to play along on a display piano. He teaches her the chords and starts singing one of his songs on his guitar. She quickly and precisely harmonizes with her voice and the piano.
If it looks like I’m just giving a detailed scene by scene synopsis, that’s because to describe this film, “Once” is to praise the effortless, unpretentious way with which it flows. This is a movie that simply washes over you like meeting a stranger and knowing that you have an instinctive, special bond with him or her. Think of “Lost in Translation” as a musical.
The writer and director John Carney not only writes superb, memorable songs for his characters and the movie but, with his cinematographer, Tim Fleming, shoots his film in an experimental yet authentic documentary style that is never showy or obtrusive. The camera lovingly, visually guides his audience to the mutual connection that the guy and the girl share, as in their first, incredibly moving number together in that music store called, “Falling Slowly.” First, it focuses on him for a while, then on her, and then slowly brings the two together in the same frame and rotates from his perspective to hers.
The guy and girl played so naturally by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are not given names because their inner human qualities and talents supersede how they are seen and labeled by everyone else on the street. They both have meager jobs – he, working in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop, and she, selling roses. But when they meet, they bring out their hidden, cherished love of music. Soon he is inspired to pursue a real career with his music.
Anyone who loves music knows that adding organized sound to words and lyrics elevates their communication and resonance. “Once,” in its low-budget minimalist style gets right to the heart by showing everyday people writing songs to express themselves. It also answers to the common criticism of movie musicals – the awkward break from reality to create glitzy, show-stopping performance numbers. The problem with most film musicals is that they step away from plausibility to deliver their songs with all-surface panache that actually gets in the way of connecting with the characters. “Once” is stripped of all that and shows our two leads singing about their pains and their vulnerabilities.
The hurt they share in their singing involves their romantic pangs. She has a daughter and a distant husband back in her homeland, whom she married at a far too young age. His songs are all about his old girlfriend whom he resents for cheating on him but cannot get over. Of course, when they make a connection, it is hard not to root for them to get together despite that neither is really available and the film wisely keeps it all sublimated, unlike most