If the music
and story are well done, such as in Meet Me in
glory years of the classical Hollywood musicals, the genre has undergone
some changes: “West Side
Story” eschews the brightly lit scenario for a bleaker setting;
“Cabaret” adopts the stage tradition of Bertolt
Now there is
“Once,” a stirring movie about a street singer in
public performer he exposes himself to the world, and in so doing puts
his emotions, his feelings, on the line.
We realize almost immediately he is comfortable with his guitar,
the tool that both possesses him and is possessed by him—he is unable not
to lay himself bare. We
might even say his songs express a certain wretchedness, a plaintive
feeling he must address and come to grips with through his music(5).
obvious that the guy is at home playing on the streets of
The girl has turned him down not because she isn't attracted to him but rather she intuits that their musical collusion will be the basis for mutual understanding which will take care of whatever the future holds.
this film different from any musicals before is the total integration of
music and story. The editing
rhythmically incorporates the songs into the story so there’s never a
“time out,” a lull in the narrative.
When the guy asks the girl to play something on the piano, and
later in their relationship has her accompany him as he works through a
tune, a “system of dispositions”—as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu
puts it—takes place which releases both of them from the narrowness of
their lives. We may call it
love, but in any case their chemistry permits them to come into their
plays on this condition they’ve created together (6), which is really what
“Once” is about. If we
are expecting a traditional love story—not unreasonable given the classical
musical's boy-gets-girl endings—we will have sold the movie short.
Director/writer John Carney has tried to show the pulse and flow of everyday Dublin life with its darkened hallways, bars and apartments, the crowded streets which ebb and flow with ordinary people who pay little attention to street singers (7). We’re not quite sure what makes the busker create these songs of longing and near despair, but we know they are real, even if the passers-by don't.
Both Glen Hansard who plays the Guy and Markéta Irglová who plays the Girl have indisputable charm and musical talent; we have the clear sense that they are revealing themselves to each other as they reveal themselves to us the moviegoers.
The last shot of the Girl by a window (8) recalls for me the works of two great painters, Jan Vermeer and Edward Hopper, both of whom created works of pensive, solitary women. Vermeer's "A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal" (9) is especially evocative, not only for the similarities of pose of both women, but also for the fact that the original is in the National Gallery in London where our aspiring busker is headed to promote his music. Hopper. too, often frames his women peering out from a window (10&11). For decades art critics has asked just what are they pondering, these women. This is the question we are left with at the end of "Once."
A NOTE ON REVIEWS OF "ONCE"
You get the idea.
I often wonder how one defines a "small film." Foreign? Unknown actors? Modest budgets? I can think of many films of the past that fit these guidelines: "City Lights," "Sherlock Jr.," "A nous la liberté," "L'Atalante," "The Station Agent."
Let's not get into the mindset of categorizing movies by anything other than their power to move us.
the R rating which was given for a few swear words.