‘Once’ is a bittersweet lullaby

Once PosterTales of star-crossed lovers have graced movie screens since the beginning of cinema. Some are fine with being sappy, others strive for realism, but less often do they become something truly special.

“Once” is about an unnamed Dublin busker (Glen Hansard, “The Commitments”) and woman (Marketa Irglova) and their week in Dublin writing, rehearsing and recording songs together.

When it comes down to it, “Once” is a musical without the theatrics. It’s an understated and perfectly realized gem. It’s by no mean a diamond in the rough. After all, it won Best Original song for, “Falling Slowly” at the 2007 Academy Awards.

It’s hard to describe just how delicate “Once” really feels. It feels like the characters, the narrative, the relationships could fall apart at any moment. But the absolutely beautiful music holds so much of it together.

The movie secures its place as one of the best, if not the best, musical of the pre-3D generation. From the renowned “Falling Slowly” to “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” there wasn’t a single performance that didn’t drive me to tears and what the music doesn’t hold together the protagonist’s relationship does.

Both together and separate, Irglova and Hansard are charming. Their conversations are frank and layered. They communicate like two lovelorn people would and their chemistry is easily apparent. But their real conversations take place in the music. The pain from their past relationships is evident in their interactions and, sometimes, it can’t help but bubble to the surface. Those quiet, biting moments sneak up on the viewer.

For all of its emotional richness, “Once” has minimal production values. It was made for only $130,000 and grossed over $20 million at the box office. There are only a few locations but, thanks to the music, performance and the characters, the world on film feels like the world at large.

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“Once” is not sappy. It exists at the corner of love and loss. The journey of Guy and Girl is unassuming and all-encompassing all at once.

Director John Carney, Irglova and Hansard set out to tell a musical love story. The result is a bitingly poignant portrait of two people who can’t help but undress through their art. At any point, it could have devolved into cliché and sap, but it never does. This precious gem revels in the love of art and people without drowning in it and it’s hard to not revel with it too.

Title: Once

Director: John Carney

Release date: January 20, 2007

Country: Ireland

Rating: 5 out of 5

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