Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thoughts On Film: Once

So, it's been over two months since my last post. The delay has been a result of travelling to Atlanta and Nashville, preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with my band in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and some general laziness. During my time in Central Asia I plan to use this blog as something of a public "deployment diary," keeping in mind that there are certain things I won't be able to reveal for security reasons. Hopefully my internet access will be reliable enough that I'll be able to post at least once a week. But for now, I'll talk about a movie I finally got around to seeing earlier this week: Once, a very good film about working-class musicians in Dublin.
The story involves a singer-songwriter who plays on the street, fending off lowlifes trying to steal his guitar case and the meager coin collection inside, played by Glen Hanspard. He meets a Czech immigrant (the radiant Marketa Irglova) who strolls up and down the street selling flowers and finds his music irresistable. She discovers that he fixes vacuum cleaners in his father's shop when he isn't performing, and he discovers that she plays piano in a music store when she isn't selling flowers. In return for some work on her broken-down Hoover, he asks to hear her play, and when they try playing together they instantly realize that their musical chemistry is something special. He finds himself torn between his new musical partner and the woman who left him to move to London, and she finds herself pulled between him and her estranged husband, still in the Czech Republic while she takes care of her daughter and mother. They eventually begin recording a demo for him to take to London to boost his career.
The film was shot much like a documentary--many shots of the two are from a distance, which allows the musicians-who-are-not-actors to feel relaxed and this lends a fresh, natural feel to their interactions. The characters aren't even named; in the credits they are simply "Guy" and "Girl" respectively. The music, mostly composed by the two main actors, is excellent and in most scenes is performed live for the camera. The opening credit sequence is a single, unbroken shot of Hanspard playing in the street, wailing his plaintive lyrics, with Irglova appearing in the frame just as he finishes. She gets a solo moment in a darkened studio piano room singing "The Hill," a song so heartbreaking that she is unable to finish it without breaking down. The most "magical" moment of the film is their first duet, "Falling Slowly," a song that won both songwriters/actors an Academy Award for Best Song. (In one of the Oscar telecast's most memorable moments, host Jon Stewart called Irglova back to the stage to give her acceptance speech after the orchestra cut her off.)
The film is somewhat reminiscent of Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation in that both films deal with a largely-platonic relationship between two attached-but-lonely people who mostly just need someone to listen, but I found this film much more emotionally engaging because of the way the songs help advance the story. (Also, this R-rated film could easily be PG were it not for the stereotypical Irish penchant for F-bombs.) If you like music that is raw and powerful and a story that relies on strong, realistic performances rather than flash, Once is a movie you should definitely check out.