On the recommendation of a friend, I finally watched Once last night. This is a beautiful, sweet, beguilingly simple yet powerful movie that has deeply affected many people. Shot with what appears to be a single camera, it unfolds like a home movie, offering an intimate portrait of two people and their developing friendship around the music they share together. I’ll warn you now --- I can’t comment on the movie without revealing its plot line, so turn back now if you can’t handle a spoiler.
The movie begins with actor Glen Hansard playing and singing his heart out on the streets of Dublin, guitar case open for contributions. Marketa Iglova, a Czech flower girl, stops to listen, and they strike up a conversation. Now here's the other quirky thing --- these folks are known as Guy and Girl in the credits, so we never actually find out their names. I never actually notice this while watching until the credits rolled.
With a tagline of "How often do you find the right person?" you're all set up for romance. You figure that after some awkwardness, maybe some standoffishness, that eventually this budding relationship must result in a sexual liaison, all the more so because Hansard is lonely, missing his girlfriend who he is still deeply love with and who has gone ahead of him to London, and Iglova is separated from her husband, living with her mother and her little girl, and wondering if he would ever come. I mean, it has to happen, right? Wrong. The refreshing surprise of this movie is that a deep friendship develops between a man and a woman, a real phileo love with nary a bit of eros love. Now that, in this time, is a miracle, and this is a good part of the reason people have gravitated to this film. We deeply desire a true friend, someone who understands us, and this Girl and Guy grow to understand one another and help one another. Marketa gives Glen the confidence he needs to continue his music, and Glen befriends Marketa who is trying to survive in a alien place without her husband. Just friendship. No sex.
The other thing that's refreshing about the movie is its tenderness, its humanity. When a street person steals Glen's bit of change in his guitar case, Glen chases him down, but not to pummel him but, in the end, to give him the money. Then there's the community of the musicians, all having a good time just paying and singing, as even a skeptical engineer in the studio comes to join in. Another deep desire --- community.
And what about the music? Enchanting, passionate, lovely. These are moving melodies that stick to you and follow you around all the next day, and in this day when music bombards us from all over, this is quite a feat. I have to have this soundtrack!
No nudity. No violence. No sex. Very little profanity, really. So why's the movie rated R? Because of the inclusion of a half dozen or more uses of the F word, no doubt, though the inclusion of this language adds nothing to the film and its deletion would not affect it in the least. It's there, no doubt, to push this movie over to an R rating so we will all know that it is a serious movie for adults and one that probably belongs in art houses (which is mostly where it ended up). Otherwise, this would be a PG rated movie.
Nevertheless, if you can tolerate the word, you'll love this enchanting movie and its music. The day after, you'll forget the word, but you will not forget the story and music for a long time. Highly recommended.
[See more about the movie, including a trailer, and listen to the soundtrack here.]