Monday, June 18, 2007



Ireland. 2007. Written and directed by John Carney. Starring: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Bill Hodnett and Danuse Ktrestova.

Rating: ★★★★

She is a Czech immigrant who sees him singing with his guitar at night in the streets of Ireland. She says she really likes his music. He says he sings his own songs only at night because he fears no one willl listen to anything other than familiar tunes in the daytime. She says, "I listen." He says, "But you only give me five cents." She curiously asks, “Do you do this for money then?” He shyly answers no.

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 Hollywood films that have reckless, hedonistic characters movng towards a predictable conclusion. The most tender moment in the movie is when she leans her head on his shoulder after she reveals a song she has written herself.

They play more music, talk and walk while wondering whether they should move to the next level. "How often do you meet the right person?” the tagline asks. Only once, the movie seems to say, and that person and their inspiration will remain in memory to remind and strengthen. We only hope he or she will be one we can truly spend the rest of our lives with.


Eric said...

This reminded me of another movie about a serendipitous encounter: Before Sunrise. These films make me think more about the strangers we pass by on the streets.

Benjammin said...

Dear MovieJohn,
I agree with most everything you have to say about the movie "Once". Although put off by the "low-budget" appearance of the film at first glance, I find your argument persuasive, and the movie indeed inspirational. What's sexier than a guy and a girl falling in love over music, then creating it together? Agreed. Sweet flick. By the way, Eric, did you mean "Before Sunrise" or "Before Sunset"?

Stan The Lobster said...

Movie reminds me of something that happened in my life. What I thought was a beautiful time in my life became the biggest mistake of my life. However that is why the ending is indeed touching and thought provoking.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

such a beautiful movie. perfect. there's not much better out there really, is there..?

audreymiranda3887 said...


I'm a french student. I'm writing a thesis to finish my degree. Mi topic is about "the image of Ireland as a tourist destination built through the fictional cinema". Would you please answer my questions I made about the movies "Once" and "The Quiet Man". Here the link to fill my survey:


Audrey Miranda