Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Film Review: "Once"

"Take this sinking boat and point it home/We've still got time/
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choic/You've made it now"

I’m hardly qualified to write a film review (“The 6th Man” is securely in my top 10…), but “Once” is hardly a typical film. I’d describe it as an extended music video for an entire album, with hidden-camera-like insight into the lives of the artists.

The main characters are played by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – both accomplished musicians with no acting experience. Hansard plays an Irish, guitar-playing vacuum repairman and Irglova plays a Czech, piano-playing house-cleaner. The movie follows the characters as they meet, begin to make music together, and work up the courage to repair past relationships.

And that’s really all there is. The dialogue is so realistic that you almost feel guilty watching them interact. Irglova plays her part so naturally that I spent a good part of the movie trying to figure out which of my East European friends she reminds me of, until I realized that I don’t have any. There are no clich├ęs, no corny lines, no real happy endings to the conflicts – the characters don’t come off as important or genius, just human and talented. And as someone who likes people-watching almost as much as he likes music, this ends up being more than enough.

But the movie is more about the music itself than anything else. Most of the songs come from Hansard and Irglova’s album The Swell Season and many are also featured on releases from Hansard’s band, The Frames. It’s the type of music that brinks on over-the-top drama, but is always mellow at the same time. Hansard and Irglova compliment each other perfectly, and the movie seems to be a pretty good representation of their musical relationship. Here’s how they describe each other:

Glen: "It [The Swell Season] was released around the same time as we started to work on the film. When I met Marketa it was immediately obvious how remarkable she was, and so for me, there was a whole new breath of creative life to be working with someone who could give so much to the music. I am very lucky with my band, they are incredibly creative, but when I met Mar it added a whole new area, a whole new voice, a whole new contrast to what I did. I think John [Carney, ONCE director] caught sight of that."

Marketa: "We have been working together for the past six years. We met in the Czech Republic, where I am from, when The Frames were over to play a few gigs. Glen got me up for a song and I started playing piano and then we started to write songs. It was very slow and very natural process. Then we recorded an album a year ago."

This is the type of movie that I could see myself watching time and time again, much like listening to an album. If you like the music, definitely go see the movie. If you don’t, still go see it, and I promise you’ll at least appreciate it after.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – Falling Slowly
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – Sleeping
Glen Hansard – Lies
Glen Hansard – Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy

The soundtrack will be released tomorrow (5/22), but you can buy The Swell Season now.
“Once” website
The Swell Season myspace
“The Frames” myspace



Christy said...

Excellent post my friend. Samples appreciated and I'll be buying the soundtrack! Nah, not from Philly but close enough to enjoy the shows.

Anonymous said...

Great review, am a big fan of The Frames and looking forward to seeing the movie. Just a small comment - as, like most other Irish people, I am intensely proud of my countrymen - Glen Hansard has acted before, he played Outspan Foster in The Commitments.

surrealistica said...

Lovely film! The soundtrack of songs really makes it what it is -- romantic and deeply human. I hope that I can catch one of the shows.