Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday Movie Review: Once

Once (2007) 10/10
A Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) meets an Eastern European girl (Markéta Irglová) and they form a friendship that changes both of them. (The IMDb lists this as a 2006 movie, but the awards and such are listing it as 2007.)

I kind of wonder what a professional critic does when confronted by the "nothing much happens" kind of movie. Once is extraordinarily simple, to the point where it almost defies description, yet any reviewer would want to describe it, inasmuch as a description might persuade someone to see it, and it's worth seeing. But why? Ah, there's the rub.

The unnamed guy (Hansard) works in his father's vacuum cleaner repair shop and sings on the street. By day he sings popular tunes to earn tips from passers-by; by night he sings his heartfelt originals. It is at night that the unnamed girl (Irglová) stops to talk to him. She has heard him during both day and night, and loves his original material. He is resistant to her conversation at first; he's trying to play, not chat, but she is fascinated by him and persists in discussing music, finally getting under his skin by getting him to agree to fix her vacuum. She brings it the next day, and they discuss her own background as a pianist. The conversation is filmed as they walk; charmingly, she drags the vacuum along behind her like a bright blue puppy.

The movie is more than half musical performance, all in the context of musicians making music, and communicating their unspoken feelings through their music. There isn't a direct lyrics-to-plot relationship; it's more the level of intensity these people allow themselves is only available when they play, sing, and compose.

This isn't a conventional romance. From the first, the girl recognizes that the guy's songs are about a woman he hasn't gotten over, and she encourages him to find her and win her back with his songs. Yet the friendship they have, as supportive and good and genuinely friendly as it is, seems constantly tinged with a longing to touch and love. Most of which is expressed simply in Hansards enormous blue eyes gazing at her, and Irglová's delicate, careful turning away.

This is a low-budget film that looks like a home movie, and such films often annoy me. I don't think looking cheap is a virtue, and I don't like a shaky camera. But the camera doesn't shake, and naturalism is the heart of this film; the naturalism of the music, of the characters, of the dialogue; it works perfectly.

What else can I say? The girl's encouragement inspires the guy and allows him to want more and try for more than he'd dared before. Together they rent a studio to record a demo; neither would have achieved this without the other, but this is never spoken. How people react to the music is persistently delightful.

There are small Irish movies that are relentlessly charming. They whack you over the head with the charming sledge hammer. Look! We're charming! See how quirky and Irish and quaint we are! Once has nothing in common with those movies; it's populated by people, not quaint characters, and it is always true to itself.

(Christmas Eve cross-post)