'Once' Upon a Gritty Folk-Rock Fairy Tale

    Sitting in a hushed audience, lulled into a state of vulnerability by Markétá Irglová and Glen Hansard’s disarmingly endearing musical partnership, it’s easy to see how director John Carney’s “”Once”” won the coveted World Cinema Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

    Pushing through a nationwide Q&A-accompanied screening tour, the charming trio (the two male members of Dublin folk-rock band the Frames and a budding female Czech musician) has taken a novel approach to film publicity, using a more intimate method of garnering recognition over the typically ostentatious tactics of mass media. Largely depending on word-of-mouth, the majority of the film’s promotion (aside from the blessing of indie fests) relies on its modest grassroots approach of interview sessions and live performances of songs featured in the musical. Yes, “”Once”” is a musical. But don’t be deterred by the genre’s stereotypes; this film is of a far less flashy breed.

    In the midst of American musical hysteria (with, in particular, 2006’s “”Dreamgirls”” and the upcoming summer revamp of 1988’s “”Hairspray””), “”Once”” sails over from Ireland to deliver a form so modest and so delightful that it almost seems dastardly erroneous to categorize it as such.

    “”I wanted to make a musical for my 16-year-old niece that didn’t have numbers where the leads sing and dance in the rain,”” said Carney at the promotional screening, explaining his decisions about labeling the film. “”It is a movie that is disguised as a musical for younger generations. It makes the viewer ask, ‘Are we watching a musical?! There are a lot of songs.'””

    Half of the project’s humble charisma does lie within the songs prudently scattered throughout. Little is said throughout the hour-and-a-half running time, and few bits of the dialogue have much significant impact on the plot. Instead, small and mostly silent exchanges act as pecks of affection and punctuations of humor between the real bulk of the film’s driving force: its music, strategically strewn along to convey the characters’ spirit and emotion – all without risking cliche.

    Each tune is cleverly crafted to evolve naturally, allowing us to clearly grasp the intended creative process, beginning from a bare framework and building into a musical narrative that effectively progresses the film’s plot without excessive verbality. “”One song equates to about 10 pages of script dialogue,”” Carney said.

    The second half of the quaint musical’s pulling allure is delivered by way of arresting performance, most noticably by newcomer ingenue Irglová and lead singer Hansard. They uphold a genuine compatibility both on- and offscreen, giving their characters all the more stark realism despite the fact that they are relatively new to the art of acting – and despite an initial underestimation by Carney: “”I chose to use musicians that can half-act rather than actors that can half-sing,”” he said. The combination of Irglová’s ethereal song and Hansard’s raw croon gives each duet an unplaceable element of sentimentality, at times even tear-jerking.

    Filmed entirely on Sony Mini DV cameras, on a tight budget of approximately $175,000 and in a span of just 17 days, “”Once”” tells the story of an anonymously named Guy (Hansard) and a brokenhearted busker/vacuum repairman, who serendipitously forms a captivating friendship with Girl (Irglová), a housecleaner/single mother. Within only a few days, their relationship blooms over a shared interest in music and an undeniable chemistry, and – fueled by eachother’s enthusiasm – they begin to sing and songwrite side by side. But this is where the film’s foregone conclusions end. Unfortunate reality begins to take its course, and the destiny of Guy and Girl’s relationship as a prelude to a great romance is cut short by all-too-familiar practicalities. Resisting the temptation to give the film a solid ultimatum, Carney leaves us with a sense of bittersweet awe toward the characters’ fate. Nevertheless, between powerhouse performances and veritable folk-rock, a considerable amount of emotional investment on our part is inevitable.

    Simply put, the film is surprisingly brilliant because of its charming modesty – it doesn’t try too hard to become an arthouse sensation. “”Once”” digs out a nest within the monotony of everyday life and coaxes ordinary circumstances into a state of uncomplicated magnificence.

    “”It portrays the typical Irish predicament: A man has an endeavor in mind and he says, ‘Once I get out of the house, I’m going to show everybody what a genius I am.’ Or, ‘Once I have enough money, I’m going to win her back.’ But the whole time, he’s just sitting there, behind a pint of Guinness,”” Hansard said. “”This film is about taking action without considering the element of ‘once something happens, I’ll do it.’ It’s just about using all you have, all that you’re good at, and just going for it without having to think twice.””

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal