Megan Clark | Where’s the Craic?
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 08:10
Once” (2007) was a surprise hit in both Ireland and the United States. Due to its major success, I was unaware of its underdog status until recently and had assumed it was a Hollywood production. In fact, “Once” was actually funded by the Irish Film Board with a micro-budget.
“Once” is a classic guy-meets-girl movie. The main characters, portrayed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, are never named and are actually listed as “Guy” and “Girl” in the film’s production materials. Nonetheless, “Once” subverts the guy-meets-girl trope by depicting a snapshot of two lives intersecting, as opposed to a sweeping, epic love story. The guy and girl come together, make music and then part, falling in love in the process. The film’s home movie style cinematography creates an ephemeral, moment-by-moment feeling, suggesting that the characters’ time together is temporary. It only happens once.
“Once” takes place in Dublin, largely in the Grafton Street area — a gathering point for locals, tourists and musicians. As I lived in this area last semester, watching “Once” was particularly exciting for me.
The film begins with the guy playing Van Morrison on Grafton Street. At night, after most people have left the area, he plays his original music, drawing the attention of the girl. From here a friendship, a musical partnership and a unique romance ensue. Both the guy and the girl are struggling musicians who have put their musical aspirations on hold in order to focus on other responsibilities. The guy, still reeling from a break-up that provides much of the inspiration for his songs, lives and works with his father in a vacuum repair shop. He moved in after the split with his long-term girlfriend, partially to support his widower father and partially to seek support himself. The girl, a Czech immigrant, lives with her mother and young daughter in a crowded flat. She is a single mother separated from her husband who is still living in the Czech Republic. While they each express it in different ways, both characters feel a deep loneliness. “Once” follows the two as their relationship develops through their musical collaboration, culminating in the recording of a demo tape.
The film’s actors, Hansard and Irglová, are primarily musicians and worked together prior to the film as the folk rock duo The Swell Season. They also co-wrote all the film’s original songs, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the film’s most popular number, “Falling Slowly.”
While music plays an important role in “Once,” the film is not a standard musical. The characters sing because they are composing pieces, not because an emotion has suddenly inspired them to break out in song. Each song’s presence is justified by the plot of the film and many are clearly based upon the characters’ previous relationships. However, the songs are also relevant to the budding relationship between the guy and the girl. In one scene, the guy sits on his bed and plays “Trying to Pull Myself Away,” a song that he wrote prior to meeting the girl. Nonetheless, the song also connects to the guy as he tries to emotionally distance himself from the girl in order to avoid getting hurt again.
The film’s music is just as affecting as its plot. My favorite song is “The Hill,” on which Irglová contributes lead vocals. In both the film and the more polished recording on the soundtrack, Irglová’s voice maintains a disjointed cadence. This is both rhythmically interesting and appropriate to the film’s plot, as it depicts the girl’s reticence to make herself vulnerable by singing.
“Once” will appeal to music lovers, Dublin aficionados and fans of understated romances.
Next week’s film: “In America.”
Megan Clark is a senior who is majoring in English and history. She can be reached at Megan.Clark@tufts.edu.