film note: Once

✭✭✭✭ Once
Directed by John Carney
1h 26min, Ireland, 2007

Like every other musical before it, Once suggests that making music makes people fall in love. A reference to this tradition may be why the male and female leads in this movie are named simply, Guy and Girl.

Watching this love happen, experiencing that euphoria myself as the Guy first presents his song to the Girl, as the Girl adds flesh via her own voice and her own instrument to the skeleton of the Guy’s song, I remembered, or at least wanted to believe, that love itself is a creative, collaborative impulse. The song crescendos, amplifying and anticipating the real and the romance, as art like this is meant to do.

Once repeats this magic during several other moments, none more remarkable than the sequence in which the Girl listens for the first time to her taped duet with the Guy, recorded on a crappy cassette tape. She rediscovers her own hope for herself and her stalled life, listening to that potential on the Walkman. The camera backs up in front of her solo-walk back to her flat, kids following behind her, Dublin street-life going on around her, everything ignored except the sound in her ears, and ours, at that moment.

On paper, it might have looked dubious: Nothing really happens in this scene, other than what I’ve described, and the life in the scene lasts only as long as the song does. Filmed, it’s transcendent. It’s more than a long walk home with headphones on; in context, it’s a short walk into a previously unimagined future. And yet, the seeds of the story’s eventual unexpected, bittersweet turn are there, too.

But I won’t tell you anything about that.

I was lucky enough to see Glen Hansard (The Frames) and Markéta Irglová, who’s Czech, perform live in a tiny spot in Karlovy Vary where their film was playing at the festival.

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