Directed by John Carney. Starring Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova, Marcella Plunkett 15A cert, gen release, 87 min
Reviewed - Once:Once is an affecting tale of love, busking and a changing Ireland, writes Michael Dwyer
SMALL is beautiful, according to the much-borrowed title of
a 1973 collection of essays written by an economist. That claim is just as valid when applied to the micro-budget movie that is Once, a deceptively simple love story that proves disarmingly charming. It's not surprising that it collected the audience awards at the recent Sundance and Dublin film festivals.
Written and directed by John Carney, Once is a rarity in that
it is a new Irish screen musical. More words are sung than spoken as it charts the tender relationship that forms between two musicians - a Grafton Street busker (Glen Hansard) and a Czech pianist (Markéta Irglová) who sells roses and
The Big Issue on the street.
Set over the course of a week, the film observes these two lonely characters - we never learn their names - as they are drawn to each other. He is getting over an affair with a woman who has left him and gone to London; the pianist has parted from her husband and lives with her young daughter and her mother in a Dublin flat where their immigrant friends gather to watch Fair City - to keep up with the storyline and to improve their English.
Carney makes the point - without ever labouring it - that his protagonists are living in a changing city where the economic boom has passed them by. His keen eye for authentic locations is as evident here as it was in Bachelors Walk, on which he was one of the driving creative forces.
The instinctive chemistry between the central couple in Once is beautifully expressed when they make sweet music on an improvised duet, so much so that we are willing them to get closer together. Their plaintive, truthful songs emerge organically from within a narrative of matching honesty, as when she asks him about his ex-girlfriend and he responds with an improvised song.
In her screen debut, Irglová graces the film with a serene, endearing presence, and Hansard, in his first movie since he played Outspan Foster in
The Commitments 16 years ago, performs with the passion and intensity he exudes on stage with The Frames.
Carney, a former bass player with that band, captures the sheer joy of performance as they sing, and the evident pleasure and dedication of their backing musicians on a recording. And he treats his characters with affection and respect in this irresistibly appealing movie that is full of heart and packs an emotional punch.