Sunday, June 10, 2007
"Once" is a great film
Last night, I went to the movies, as I often do, alone. I love my local theaters, especially the Uptown which has never been divided into a multiplex. It still has a big screen and a balcony. The seats are a little shabby, but that's part of its charm; it feels like home. Because it's part of the Landmark chain, it debuts indie films like the one I saw last night, Once. John Carney filmed it in Dublin for $150,000 using hand-held digital cameras with telephoto lenses. It's a fictional story of a man and a woman who are both musicians, who meet and begin to make music together. Most of the film actually consists of their musical journey: she hears him busking on the street, they play together for the first time in a music store where she is allowed to play the piano, they share songs on tape recorders and CD players, they share dreams of making a record. He's still in love with the woman he's left; she's a Czech immigrant scraping by with her mother and toddler, with a husband back home from whom she's separated. Each is writing songs out of the rawness of their feelings, and they connect through their music making. Neither of the leads is a professional actor (although Glen Hansard did have a minor role in the film The Commitments when he was 21), but they are musicians, and they performed all the music in the film live, with no overdubbing. Watching the process of music-making unfold, especially as they meet other musicians to cut a demo, is fascinating and full of warm and melancholy details. They have feelings for each other, but one of the gifts they give each other along with the music is the courage to honor their attraction to each other but also to honor each other by resisting temptation so they can try again with their loved ones. The New York Times review tells us that the film was originally written for Cillian Murphy (an actor who was a rock musician before he started to act) but that he backed out because his co-lead was not a professional actor. I'm glad, because I think his replacement, the musician Glen Hansard from the Irish band The Frames, is perfect for his role. Murphy is a great actor but he's too freakin' gorgeous--the film would have lost some of become a "Cillian Murphy" film, and lost the intimacy that is so much of its effectiveness.
The Dublin in the film is a working class Dublin, but there are a few scenes where the characters go to the water and we can see the absolute beauty of the land and the sea. There's also a priceless scene of a party where everyone there contributes a song, and if one of the singers there wasn't Marianne Faithful, she could have been. The film was picked up in Galway for a showing at Sundance, where it ended up winning the audience award. I'm happy for all those involved in this labor of love. If you have a chance to see it, go for it.
Here's the trailer