We’ve had a string of older films — which is great — but today, I think we need something contemporary. With that in mind, Friday’s fine romance selection is Once, the 2006 indie about Dublin musicians directed by John Carney and starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll warn you from the start that I simply can’t evaluate this film rationally. I love Ireland. I’ve been twice and would happily move there if it were an option. (Note to self: find job in Ireland.) I love Irish literature, I love Irish music, I love the way the rain in County Kerry tastes different from rain anywhere else on earth. I’ll even take Irish food if I get to eat it in Ireland. See: not rational.
I also went into Once a fan of Hansard’s music with The Frames, though I hadn’t heard any of his work with Irglova, a collaboration they call The Swell Season. (Hansard is really polarizing. My friends who are into Irish music much more so than me use him as a litmus test to figure out people’s taste.)
The story is easy enough: Hansard is a busker on Dublin’s streets. His dreams of making it big have been forestalled by helping with his aging father’s vacuum repair business and by a woman who broke his heart and left him for London and another man. Irglova is a Czech immigrant who starts chatting and then playing music with him.
While the title (with it’s promise of “once upon a time”) might sound like it’s setting up something pretentious and grandiose, it’s difficult for me to think of a more direct, less fussy romance. It’s an organic thing — complicated by the fact that Hansard and Irglova are not actors and did in fact have an affair around the time the movie was shot.
But getting into what’s real and what’s not distracts from what’s amazing about Once: the music. There’s a reason it’s since been adapted for the Broadway stage. Irglova pacing through a Dublin night singing “If You Want Me” is a great tense moment that communicates so much about character and place, a successful fusion of music, lyrics, performance, and cinematic-ness. I write with The Swell Season playing in the background all the time. It’s smart, emotional, beautiful music.
See, I’m absolutely not rational. But that’s precisely why Once works, because it’s so damn evocative. Tonight, I commend Once to you, with or without the soda bread and Guinness.