Written by Caballero Oscuro
Once was the little film with big exposure last year, garnering glowing praise during its theatrical run and a considerable marketing push for its DVD release. Now that the masses have easy access to view it on DVD, its true test comes as a viable classic or just a flash in the pan.
Although seemingly advertised as a love story about two musicians, Once is really the tale of an Irish street busker/vacuum repairman (Glen Hansard) as he finally gets serious about pursuing his dream of a music career. The catalyst for his action is his chance encounter with a Czech immigrant girl/piano player (Marketa Irglova) who assists with his music. They never develop a deep enough personal or professional relationship where she’s a true collaborator on his music; she acts more as a mini-muse and backup player to assist him to his goals. Sure, he likes her and she seems fond of him as well, but she’s eventually revealed to be married (although temporarily separated) in addition to having a singular devotion to caring for her child and mother, so any romantic relationship is out of the question.
The leads are never identified by name, relating to each other and the audience solely through their music. Much of the movie consists of the songs performed by Hansard, and while they don’t necessarily move the narrative forward as true movie-musical numbers, they occasionally reveal his emotional state as he pines after Irglova. The songs are quite good for the most part, although not reaching instant-classic status for the casual observer. They also bog down the flow of the film at times, such as when the movie goes from one of Hansard’s numbers directly into a piece by Irglova with no exposition in between. However, fans who have fallen in love with the tunes through repeated CD spins will likely relish the film’s strong focus on the music.
The film was clearly a micro-budgeted production and as such has some quality flaws, such as extremely poor lighting during a couple of interior shots. The script, such as it is, also could have used some fine-tuning to maximize its potential, as its current incarnation never really drives home the importance of Irglova’s influence or explores their relationship to its fullest, robbing the film’s bittersweet ending of its power. The acting is uniformly serviceable, with the exception of Hansard, who contributes the film’s best performance in his passionate role. A real musician by trade, it’s hopeful that Hansard will continue his acting foray in the future.