Thursday, June 25, 2009


"Once" (John Carney, 2007) A bitter Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) runs into a charmed Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová), also musically inclined, and for a time they make great music together.

That's it. That's the whole story. The characters don't even have names! It's shot ungracefully, edited abruptly, and mostly ad-libbed on the streets. For all that, it's got all the charm and whimsy of a multi-million dollar M-G-M musical. It works. And works beautifully. You're sad to see it end.

You could say that it now takes so little to make a great movie. Economically, you'd be right. But "Once" is full of those ingredients that money can't buy—the little miracles that great films have to have that makes them rise above merely gargantuanly filmed examples of style. Miracles like chemistry, simple construction, and the openness of performance. And they get the music right. Early on, there is an impromptu duet in a music shop.
* One can see the musical moment coming, as pre-planned as a Howard Hawks sing-along, until "the guy" mentions "It's in C." "I can see that," says "the girl" looking at his fingers on his guitar neck.

Of course, she can. She's a musician, too and she's learned her craft. It's not like she's going to burst spontaneously into song like most movie musicals. There was a learning journey for these two to take before they started playing music, and that training is acknowledged.

I also particularly liked the recording studio sequence, when "The Busker" goes to make his demo CD. The substitute engineer—the studio was rented for cheap—is under-enthused when he sees the motley crew of street musicians he has to record for a weekend. That he perks up when he hears "the music" is a bit of a cliche, but not the celebratory road-trip to see how it sounds "in the car." That's exactly true—you check the mix to see how it sounds in bad circumstances as well as good, and most studio engineers choose to listen in their cars.

"Once" is a charming miracle of a movie, pointing out that in today's chip-age, nothing can stop you (save the Seven Deadly Sins)** from making a movie; "Once" started out with an idea, two actor-musicians, and a lot of will and a lot of talent and taste...and that was it.

It's a testament to the creativity that comes from collaboration, and the shared vision between film-makers, and the communication between film-makers and audience. Informal, practical and not showy, "Once"*** has the welcoming shining air of discovery of an incisive chat with a new friend.


* The ubiquitous "Falling Slowly," which won the Academy Award for "Best Song."

** Worried about the "R" rating? Don't be. It's for pervasive use of the "F" word—which sounds charming with an Irish accent.

*** Just a stray thought: If there's a sequel, would it be called "Twice?"

1 comment:

Walaka said...

I would be at the opening night of "Twice." No doubt.