Getting it Right for ‘Once’

once“I’m scratching at the surface now. And I’m trying hard to work it out. So much has gone misunderstood. This mystery only leads to doubt. And I didn’t understand. When you reached out to take my hand. And if you have something to say. You’d better say it now.” — Say It With Me Now

The first time, “the Guy,” played by the lead singer of the Irish band “The Frames,” Glenn Hansard, meets “the Girl,” played by the Czech singer-songwriter, Marketa Irglova, is singing “Say It To Me Now” on the dark and chilly streets of Dublin, Ireland. This meeting takes the nameless twosome and the audience on an 86-minute journey that can best be described as comfort food for the soul.

Written and directed by John Carney ( former musician with the Frames) and distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the Irish musical “Once” is easily one of the best films of its genre, or any other for that matter, to have been made in recent years.

The natural and honest portrayal of the lead characters by the inexperienced actors is a huge part of the film’s appeal along with its fantastic soundtrack. Hansard seems perfect for the role of the down-on-his-luck and, at times, naïve but good-hearted Irish lad. Irglova, on the other hand, absolutely steals the show with her cerebral and infectious Eastern European charm, Czech-Irish accent and a smile to seemingly heal even the most broken of hearts.

The chemistry between the two is almost instant, maybe even electric. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that, like a Hollywood romantic drama or comedy, this film will have a traditional happy ending, with a kiss, an altar and maybe even a baby. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with that scenario, but life is rarely that simple.

“The Guy,” nursing a broken heart, after a breakup with his long time girlfriend, lives with his father, works at their vacuum cleaner repair shop and in his spare time, is a singer-songwriter on the streets of Dublin. “The Girl,” a recent immigrant, sells flowers on the streets, lives with her mother, has an estranged husband back home in the Czech Republic and to top that off, also has an infant daughter.

Despite their significant responsibilities, problems and his being older by about 15 years, they find a camaraderie that helps them to get each other out of their respective slumps. She helps him not only to get serious about his songwriting, but also to record an album in order to help him get a record deal and maybe win back his girlfriend. He, in turn, helps her to get back to her past as a pianist, a songwriter and maybe even to her husband.

Though they knowingly fan the shared passion of music in each other, they come to find in the other a companionship — a love that is pure, even in its most basic form. They honestly want the best for each other, even if they are not there at the end to share in the joy.

The bare bones look, documentary-type feel and shoestring budget of the film is done intentionally by the director to tell the story that he had envisioned. The idea of not using subtitles during the Czech dialogues only adds to the realistic feel of this film, as who among us hasn’t had the awkwardness of listening in on a conversation in an unfamiliar language?

Apart from the two nameless characters, the soundtrack, mostly written and performed by Hansard and Irglova, plays a huge part in the large-heartedness of the film, as the emotions of the two are told through its words. Songs like “Falling Slowly,” “Say It To Me Now,” “The Hill” and “When Your Mind Is Made Up” will have music lovers humming along with its melodies. Even the breakup song, “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy,” is catchy in its sadness.

The film was rightly awarded the 2008 Academy Award for Best Song for “Falling Slowly” and the 2007 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for Best Dramatic World Cinema.

This little bittersweet gem of a film, with its considerable charm, humor and unabashed love of music, most likely describes the emotion of love as not necessarily gazing into each other’s eyes, but in looking together in the same direction, albeit briefly.

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