Saturday, October 27, 2007

Review: Once

I was in the mood to watch an indie flick today, and, having read a glowing review of Once in Empire, was pleased to see that one of the two London locations it was playing at was reasonably nearby. Good choice!

Once is beautiful and intimate, a love letter both to music and the privilege of friendship, even when that friendship is precariously poised on a precipice that overlooks the treacherous seas of romance and the warning flag is up. There is only the barest of plots – the two characters the story revolves around aren’t even named. It’s simply the tale of an Irish busker (Glen Hansard) who meets a Czech immigrant (Marina Irglova) and discover a mutual affinity for music and each other. We, the audience, are simply the invisible chaperone as we watch their relationship bloom in the most ordinary of settings: in their homes, in a shop, on the streets. And of course, a large part of the film is the music, which is woven effortlessly through the film as part of the narrative – it is the passion of both characters, after all, and a natural part of their lives – as well possessing as an expositional function: it makes the inner thoughts of the characters accessible to us. We could say that Once is a musical, but not as how you would normally conceive a musical. However, if you’re not into singer-songwriterish type music, you might not enjoy the film so much.

I really did no justice to the feel of the film in the last paragraph. Trust me when I say this is no Hugh Grant vehicle.

A film like this depends heavily on the characters to make it compelling, and Glen and Marina, who are both professional musicians rather than actors, are remarkable. They produce understated but powerful performances. This is as far from standard Hollywood romantic comedy as you get here. The conversations are made up of the everyday stuff that you and I have. (Fixing a hoover / vacuum cleaner, anyone?) We empathise with the complicating circumstances when they show up as they get to know each other better. Isn't this true of real life, that as we get to know each other better, more of our messiness shows up as well? As the characters deal with the awkward limbo between friendship and something more, the choices that they eventually make are powerfully communicated because they arise so organically.

The way the film was shot lends it a naturalistic feel; when Mara walks back home from a quick trip to the local store at night, I know exactly what that’s like because I’ve done the same thing myself. Ditto for the scenes in the high street, anyone who’s walked down a high street in any British town would have no problem placing themselves in the crowd. (Note: The film is set in Dublin.) The only thing I wished was a more steady hand when the director, John Carney, used close-up shots. The slight motions of the frame were enough to give me a little headache!

Once is worth lauding because it never moves into escapism. It recognises that life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, and that man (and woman!) cannot live by self-gratification alone. Communal scenes are highlighted throughout and neither the characters, thankfully, demonstrate anything more than a hint, if that, of narcissism.

At the same time, it is a film that basks in celebrating the good moments as they come, and encourages us not to dwell on the hardships of life, but to view them as opportunities instead. To this end, Once is incurably romantic. May it be more romances of this nature are made!

Sundance winner, ****

I thought of putting up a video of Falling Slowly, arguably the standout song from the film here, but actually, I think it’s better if you first encounter it in the context of the film first. But here’s Part 1 of an interesting four-part interview with Glen and Marina (you can access the other parts from the follow-up links at the end of the video):

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Blogger BK said...

Nice to know Mark and I obviously have similar tastes in movies. :)

4:46 pm  

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