Directed and Written by John Carney
Starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
I quickly grabbed the DVD Once off the library shelf, found the synopsis interesting and then it hit me. I heard an interview with the musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova on On Point Radio around the time of the Oscars. I don’t normally listen to rock or pop music, but the music from Once taught me a good lesson about musical intention when it comes from the heart. I had forgotten about the catharsis of rock music and the healing it brought me after several breakups in my youth.
The core of the film revolves around a love story, but not the usual romantic fair with the obligatory sex scene. The love in this film which takes place between two broken-hearted musicians focuses on healing and redemption. Both Hansard’s and Irglova’s characters suffered from painful breakups, and in Irglova’s case (she plays a classical pianist from the Czech Republic), involved a broken marriage and resulting child.
The love story here borders on tragic without any victim mentality. It is thankfully absent of sentimentality which in my opinion is a plus for any film. The director John Carney employs a social realism, almost documentary approach, though we deal here with fiction. Hansard plays a gritty street musician who performs cover songs during the day on the streets of Dublin. But at night he performs his own music, mainly for himself. Then one fateful night, he encounters Irglova who asks him a lot of personal questions.
Within a span of a week, the two musical soul mates not only compose some magical songs together, while wowing the employees at a music store, recording studio and Hansard’s father, but they give much-needed healing for each other. I fell in love with both characters and allowed myself to travel deep into the film’s story. In fact, I lost myself completely. I found the music absorbing, the characters endearing and the filmmaking (half-music video and half docu-style) spectacular. Carney possesses a genius for the shorthand approach (less is more). His stripped down approach which allowed the actors to channel their roles puts the director and the film in my list of favorites.
I watch movies because I want to understand the human experience more deeply. I prefer to encounter real humans in the characters and feel myself at the crossroads where they stand and walk in their shoes just a little. Movies for me are not about escaping the world, but understanding the world better. And John Carney’s Once allows me to go there with the characters and the director as he presents his vision.
The love story has a realistic ending and one that brings healing to the characters. Though anyone who has not yet watched the film, might feel surprised if they expect the boy to win the girl and own her for a lifetime. Carney presents a different story of integrity and difficult choices. His story revolves around the healing power of music and the enduring power of compassion.
And as an added bonus, I felt swept back into the past when I struggled as a musician. I recalled the joy of composing songs and collaborating with other musicians. And I’m sure other musicians watching the film could also see themselves in the characters. I also traveled to London once with my demo tapes in hand. Success was not in the cards for me. Yet, my memories are not of disappointment but of the adventures of youth. Carney’s film delves into a passion for music which cuts across all borders and ethnic experiences. And the human bonds forged through the sharing of music shine brightly here too.