You may be forgiven if you have never heard of the movie Once. It was an independent movie made in Ireland in 2007. It was filmed for approximately 100,000 Euros, which is an insanely small budget for a full length movie. The two lead characters were not actors, but instead, musicians: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The onscreen names of the two lead characters are never mentioned in the film. Instead, Hansard is simply called “Guy”, and Irglova is simply called “Girl”. The producer did not obtain permits for any of the scenes shot in public places, and because those scenes were filmed with a telescopic lens, none of the citizens shown in those scenes were aware that they were being filmed and simply went about their business in markets and on crowded streets. Upon its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, critics hailed Once as being the best movie about music of its generation, even though it is not a musical. Once ended the year on 37 different movie critics’ Top Ten lists of the best movies of year for 2007. It ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture. That song was “Falling Slowly”. Their win was noteworthy because of what happened during their acceptance speech. Hansard is twice as old as Irglova, an extroverted presence that contrasts with Irglova’s quieter, softer presence. Not surprisingly, Hansard strode to the microphone and thanked those who needed to be thanked while Irglova stood quietly beside him. When Hansard finished, the orchestra started to play and the television producers went to commercial. Unbeknownst to them all, Irglova had stepped in front of the microphone and unexpectedly started to speak but was cut off on live tv. Upon returning from the commercial break, host Jon Stewart interrupted the show, publicly apologized to Irglova and gave her the chance to say her piece and to speak for herself. As should have happened in the first place.
The plotline of Once is very simple, yet very original at the same time. It is a non-musical movie that uses music to drive the action forward. Glen Hansard stars as a street busker who plays an acoustic guitar on the streets of Ireland and survives on the coins that are thrown into his open guitar case. One day while busking, Guy (Hansard) sees Girl (Irglova) as she walks down the street selling flowers to passers by. Guy is immediately drawn to Girl’s innocent look (Hansard was 37 at the time of filming and Irglova 19). The rest of the movie involves how Guy and Girl slowly fall in love and realize that they have met their soulmate. Because the storyline is simplistic, it leaves room for twists and turns that add nuance to the story of Guy and Girl. How the movie ends was talked about and discussed as much as, if not more than, how the romance itself played out. Once takes place on street corners while Guy busks with his guitar, in music stores as the two characters reveal their inner feelings and/or bits of their personalities and past lives through songs they play for one another and through the shared, intimate acts of vulnerability that come when you trust someone enough to share your creative process with them. It is a beautiful, tiny gem of a movie and was the favourite of the critics for a reason. If you want to watch a movie with a story that will touch your heart all the while telling you a great story that is more complex than you might realize, then Once is the movie for you. I highly recommend it.
If you need any more convincing as to the economy of exquisite detail employed in making this movie then, here are the only two facts you need to know: first of all, the song “Falling Slowly” is about two people falling in love. It was sung as a duet, as it should be. In the movie, they sing together at a piano in a music shop where the owner allows her to play (because she cannot afraid a piano of her own). They sing together a song written by Guy about a Girl. Not this Girl but a long lost Girl that still occupies a space in the mind of Guy. They sing this song slowly, at first and in perfect harmony by the end. They sing acoustically, without the adornment of electronic instruments…just guitar strings, piano strings and, I suppose, heart strings, too. It is falling in love as shown through the act of singing a song. “Falling Slowly” started as being about one couple but ends with it being about them. The song and the scene are altogether lovely. Secondly, the title of the movie is actually the answer to the question, “How many times in life do you find your soulmate?”
As Marketa is eventually given time to say in her Academy Award winning acceptance speech….and I am paraphrasing….through Art there is Hope and it is Hope that connects us all.
The link to the video for the song “Falling Slowly” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Once can be found here.
The link to the trailer for the movie Once can be found here.
The link to the acceptance speech that went awry at the Academy Awards can be found here.