When I resolved to watch the movies determined by the Associated Press to be the best of 2007, I admit I wasn’t all too pumped to watch the one that was described as a ‘movie musical’.
And here’s where I admit that I was wrong, and my God am I completely and horribly wrong.
I won’t waste anyone’s time anymore, and just say flat out say that Once is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Many times throughout I felt that Writer – Director John Carney was almost cruel in the way he plays with the viewer’s emotions, ranging from the depths of despair to the heights of elation. You forget that you are watching a performance, and you forget that the performers are ordinary, almost sad looking people. You forget everything, and are just enveloped in a wave of emotion, ensconed as you are in the world Carney et al brings you to.
The story is fairly simple, as is the plot, so much so there almost isn’t any. Irish actor Glen Hansgard plays ‘A Guy’ (the credits describe him as such) who plays guitar in the streets for what I presume to be extra cash. Markéta Irglová is ‘The Girl’ who one day strikes a conversation with him after hearing him belt out one of his own compositions.
Hansgard’s character is an extremely talented musician and song writer as is Irglova’s, albeit torn by a failed relationship, angry and lonely. The story revolves around the tension between the two main characters ‘will they or won’t they’ premise – and that’s pretty much all there is to say plot – wise.
Where the movie shines is the writing, editing and direction of John Carney, who puts together a masterpiece of terrific songs, simple characters and situations where they are put forth most effectively. Inasmuch as one would think it’d end up MTV-ish, the music and the scenes roll out with one neither on top of the other. They mix themselves into the story, coming into scenes as simple as when Irglova buys batteries from a store, or when they all ride a car and go to the beach as they listen to their first professional recording.
Scenes are so brilliantly put together that the effect on the simple plot is hard to describe. One would normally say ‘magical’, but I’d call it powerful. Hansgard’s songs bring great emotion and depth to scenes that would otherwise be ordinary. The camera work is distracting even, as it follows the characters around as if held by hand. But when the music starts and a situation is played out it is almost like watching a silent movie. Hansgard or Irglova merely walking or riding a motorcycle becomes great drama, with peaks and valleys of emotion and feeling.
This is some kind of classic, some kind of new thing that John Carney has created. A ‘musical’ without the Broadway – ish execution we have come to be familiar with, yet a musical still in the complete sense, where music is made to convey a feeling, in conjuction with acting.
The result is one of the most moving theatrical experiences I have ever had in my life. There really isn’t much else I can say to describe it other than that.