Once (John Carney, 2006)


Reviews of the current box-office release, Begin Again, tend to refer to it as not being as good as the Director’s previous film so, on the first day that we had access to a film and tv net streaming service, we noticed this one as being available as we trawled round to see what treats lay in store.

From the opening scenes, of a busker simply referred to as “guy” (Glen Hansard), singing Van Morrison songs in a busy Dublin street and confronting an addict, patently weighing up his chances of stealing guy’s collection, we were intrigued. The scenes are shot live in the street, and in pubs and other interiors there is a verité about the scenes, including a graininess to the film, that does not distract from, but rather adds to, the drama.

While guy plays recognised songs in the day, at night he belts out his own compositions to almost entirely empty streets. Suddenly we, and guy, are faced by a young woman standing and watching him. As he finishes his song, she asks if the song is his own and, when he confirms that it is asks why he doesn’t play them during the day. Guy explains that it is economics; he wouldn’t be able to make any money at all playing unrecognised songs, and he doesn’t have enough money to indulge himself, working during the day in his father’s Hoover repair shop. The woman, “girl” (Marketa Iglova) in the credits, is a Czech immigrant and Big Issue seller and throws in a 10 cent coin to guy’s collection; not much but an expression that she really does prefer guy’s own compositions. Shortly, they strike up a friendship when guy agrees to repair girl’s broken Hoover and they go for lunch together. After lunch, they go to a music instruments shop, where girl is allowed to play the pianos – her father was a gifted musician until arthritis prevented his playing. Girl cannot afford any kind of piano, living in obvious poverty and guy is moved by her evident talent.

As they get to know one another better, their friendship looks to be developing into something more but guy has unresolved issues about his ex-girlfriend (the inspiration for most of his songs) and girl also has complications from a previous relationship, and responsibilities that make her reluctant to engage in a relationship with guy. Despite the usual movie conventions of romances, it was really unclear to us whether or not the budding romance would ever come to fruition.

I loved this film. The two leads are great company, sweetly gauche. Both are musically talented (sickeningly so, for people like me who love music but lack the talent or perseverance to be any good at it) and funny. There are scenes which, in a “by-the-numbers” romantic drama, would almost certainly signal the introduction of a dramatic, highly coincidental or tragic episode to move on the plot, but this always remains in the realm of the realistic, with the plot moved on by characters’ behaviours and actions, and the slightly “documentary” feel of much of the film really does enhance the sense of reality in their relationship, as does the fact that the two leads, both talented musicians, play all their own music, usually live on camera.

A gorgeous movie.


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