Once (2007) dir. John Carney
Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Beware: Some spoilers ahead
“Once” is one of the great unconsummated love stories. Two people falling in love with largely unspoken terms of affection. The concept is simple - an Irish busker meets a young woman on the streets and bond over their love of music. Untraditional indie-pop-folk songs allow the characters to express their emotions and fulfill their suppressed dreams and passions in life.
It’s difficult to reveal how the love story progresses, but what’s most interesting is what stands between the two and what prevents them from being together. With largely unspoken subtext Carney and the two actors express emotions more complex than any other film I’ve seen about love. And Carney is smart not to over-analyze or hit the nail over our heads with dialogue. He respects the audience’s intelligence
“Once” feels so natural and unencumbered with extraneous cinematic elements that most other romance or romantic comedies instantly pale in comparison. “Once” is sparse on dialogue, sparse on characters, sparse on comedy, yet the film towers of all others in the genre. Of course, it contains a phenomenal melancholy pop soundtrack which trumps any and all Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, or Diane Warren songs we’ve heard in film.
It’s funny because I also saw “Atonement” – the complete opposite of unrequited love stories. That film has big scenes with big emotion, painfully tragic touches and glances. “Once” manages to express the same emotiona with the quietness of a whisper. But when it needs to Glen Hansard can belt out one of his screaming vocals which takes the film higher and grander than anything in “Atonement”.
The story behind the making of “Once” adds to its mystique and attractiveness. In an age where ‘indie’ film has no real significant meaning anymore, “Once” is one of those films reminds us of a true independent film. Director John Carney, a former member of the indie rock band, “The Frames” who is now a film director had cast star actor Cillian Murphy as the lead. On the back of Murphy the film would have been produced at a much higher budget with a greater guarantee of distribution. When Murphy dropped out of the picture Carney cast his former bandmate Glen Hansard and unknown Markéta Irglová as the leads and got the picture made on the back of a minor Irish film grant – likely less than the craft service budget in “Atonement.”
“Once” seems to ‘pour’ out of the filmmakers. The trio filmed in real locations amidst the everyday hustle and bustle of Grafton Street Dublin. The film was shot on grainy 24p video with little accoutrements. Charm rose from these constraints resulting in likely a better film without Mr. Murphy.
“Once” is a film to remember, and impossible to consciously recreate. Though I’m sure a lot of time, energy, rehearsals, and bad takes went into making the film, it seems like one of those unique one-of-a-kind films that could do no wrong.
“Once” is available from Twenieth Century Fox Home Entertainment