Once (2007)

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A stunningly beautiful musical that sweetly and emotionally explores music as the language of love. The fact that it’s made with a small budget and shot as a natural felt drama makes it even more special.

The story finds a guy (Glen Hansard) who after a breakup moves back in with his father and makes extra money by busking on the streets of Dublin. One night he meets a young woman (Marketa Irglova) who becomes part of his life through their shared fondness for music. Their friendship and blossoming possible romance becomes part of the story as much as them trying to record their written songs.

The directing by John Carney is realistic and homely if that makes sense. The cheap style with all naturalistic lighting and cameras capturing the songs from distances at times make it feel like you’re watching a pedestrian filmed video for Youtube, like the performances are capturing the real magic which adds to the brilliance of this movie. Carney pulls together a strong pairing of stars in Hansard and Irglova who demonstrate the power of their lyrics and vocal work with unknockable skill. It just comes across all the more realistic because of its shoestring style and that helps sell the story even more, even if the songs and acting hadn’t already done that for you.

The music is just wonderful and the main song, ‘Falling Slowly’ 100% deserved it’s Oscar win. The entire soundtrack is in fact a treasure chest of raw and impacting songs from the soul. The range from Hansard is incredible and that alongside the angelic accompaniment of Irglova make for the goosebump inducing songs throughout the film. Every one of the songs manages to convey that unshakable sense of romance yet hurt and the two leads portray a hugely believable picture of simple attraction through music. The music at numerous places speaks more than can be actually said and it’s with the repeat of ‘Falling Slowly’ that the end becomes a bittersweet sad moment but crafted beautifully and finishes the film perfectly.

I love that this film glows from its showcasing of gritty Irish streets, shops and bedsits. It really grabs a snapshot of a part of Dublin booming with all the people we see and at the centre of this are people stuck behind struggling to be heard. It’s also fantastic that they don’t take a Hollywood approach and let the love story simmer and never really boil into a cliched ending embrace, sure it leaves the ending more sad but more real because of that decision. All the way through you’re rooting for these two and their adoration for the craft shouldn’t be substituted for a cliched love story.

The only things, literally the only parts that I thought were slight weak notes to this song sheet were the loans man being so open and suddenly serenading them, slightly too far and silly in my view. That and the band helping the guy and the girl progress detracted from the duets that the pair of them did so well, though that’s a pithy excuse for a weakness as the extra bonus of guitars and drums gave the later songs a great sound. I just can’t believe I hadn’t seen this tender modern musical until now and that’s my weakness!

Truly a startling low budget piece of art that tells a romantic tale better than movies that have money flowing out from their ears. The music and leading stars come together to illustrate a moving, charming, inspiring and engaging film.

9/10

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