Once just came out on DVD yesterday and unless someone speaks up it may fly under your radar. It didn't get a whole lot of press during its limited theater run and I had to dig to find out when it was coming out on disc.
I'm going to say this once, and I'm going to get it out of the way at the top of this article in case you don't read all the way through: rent or buy this movie. It's not the feel-good hit of the year or the sweetest love story you'll ever see or the most amazing music movie ever made, though I've heard it called all of those things.
Instead, it's low-budget Irish film about a street musician (Frames' frontman Glen Hansard) and the immigrant Czech girl he meets (his real-life girlfriend and collaborator, Markéta Irglová ). To call it a love story is to diminish what it's about - the stakes are at once too simple and too complex for such a standard label.
Look, here's the story: lonely guitarboy meets lonely pianogirl. They hang out in piano shop and jam together. There are various reasons why it would be difficult for them to have any sort of romantic involvement. He decides to leave town, but before he goes he wants to cut a high-quality demo disc. They rent out a studio, find a backup band and cut a disc together.
That's the movie.
What makes this film work so well, though, is the sheer earnest sincerity of it. These are people who love their art, who love their lives and who love each other. There's a depth of feeling that is constantly undercut - by their backstories, by a language barrier, by their poverty and by their devastating loneliness. When they make music together, though, it's like we can see all of that fall away and there's nothing at all between them. And maybe that's why this film works so well - it shows us some sad people dealing with serious personal problems, and then it shows us how none of that means shit in the face of something beautiful.
And the great characterization doesn't stop with these two - consider his father, an old widower who runs a hoover repair shop. He's quiet, serious, loves his son - and he hangs back, quietly understanding and empathizing. When he hears the demo disc, there is pride bursting off his face - "So, when are you off, then?" he asks. It's such a touching moment and it comes out of nowhere, but it gives testament to the faith the man has had in his son over all the years. We get his inner state brought out through this music - and he's an incredibly minor character.
We get her neighbors - a few other guys from her building who speak very little English and swing by regularly to watch TV. We know almost nothing about them but we instantly understand the dynamics involved in her living space.
This is an easy film to watch, it has some lovely music, it has compelling characters and in the end it humbly urges you to think about what's important in life. In short, it's a movie you should probably pick up. If you do - or if you've already seen it - please swing by and let us know what you thought.
This review is copyright 2007 for Mykola Bilokonsky. Any unauthorized duplication is prohibited, but if you want to link me I'd be ecstatic and if you want to duplicate me I'll likely consent. For more reviews of books, movies and music, click here.