I am always wary of Irish-made films that get lauded in Irish reviews. For every “I went down”, there’s an “Into the west” lurking in the shadows waiting to ruin your night. For this reason, I was wary of Once, a low budget movie from John Carney, starring Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova and never went to see it on it’s cinema release. That was a mistake really because it is in some ways a perfect movie. It may even be the first musical I’ve actually liked.
The story kicks off with Hansard’s surly busker singing for cents and meeting Irglova’s inquisitive flower seller and the relationship kicking off from there. Neither character is ever given a name and in the credits, they feature as “guy” and “girl”. It could be terribly saccharine and forced but it isn’t and that is due to the very natural performances of Hansard & Irglova. The songs are terrific but the film is driven by the central romance and subtle sideswipes at “Celtic Tiger” Ireland. Both these characters inhabit a world a million miles distant from boom-time riches. There’s a hilarious interlude when some Czech lads come into “girl’s” flat to watch Fair City to improve their English. There’s also the living conditions of the family where 3 generations live in a one room flat, an uncomfortable reminder of our own previous poverty. With the passing of the Celtic Tiger and the continental Europeans leaving the country in search of work, this is a world that if it isn’t quite dying, it is certainly losing it’s vitality. The characters never let money or lack of it get them down. “Guy” is concerned with love lost and “girl” wants the best for her daughter. All this goes on while the two leads fall in love.
There is one especially touching scene when “guy” asks “girl” if she loves her husband, and she replies Miluju tebe and when he asks her to translate, she demurs. I looked it up after and the scene really encapsulates what the film is all about.
The songs themselves are a joy. If you like the Frames blend of melancholic, mellow tunes, you’ll love these. Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy is the funniest movie tune of the last few years.
It really is a perfect film. It has the bittersweet taste of unrequited love, effortless social commentary, humour, great songs and most of all, it has heart. If you haven’t seen it, rent it out. If you have already seen it, you can watch it again when you need to smile.