By ALISON CHURCH
Now over a decade old from its release, the lesser known musical “Once” still manages to stick inside the viewer’s head for a long time after the first viewing. It is the embodiment of art that grows on the viewer through its beauty in the subtler moments. The two main characters, Hansard and Irglová (who go unnamed throughout the film), are not professional actors, but rather professional musicians who play their parts in a story that documents their unspoken on screen love that builds in the form of music, as well as the unintentional development of their off screen love.
A fellow Czech musician (Irglová) discovers Hansard’s musical talent as he performs on the crowded streets of Dublin, Ireland. When she first listens to him sing, she instinctively knows that the personal love songs he writes are meant for someone he loves. The film excels at building familiarity between people; an early example of this familiarity is when Irglova and Hansard banter in quippish dialogue about whether his songs tell about his past love stories. In their first meeting, the viewer already feels a level of attachment to their character dynamic because of its relatability; they perfectly display the unspoken feeling of deeply understanding someone you just met. The beginning of their musical collaboration begins when Irglová and Hansard play their first heartfelt piano/guitar duet called “Falling Slowly” written by Hansard. Although still strangers, they instantly play off of each other’s abilities as their voices tie together like string and light up the room with their shared feelings of loneliness.
Although the visual quality of “Once” is low and often lacking in creative shots, Director Carney makes up for it by delivering emotion. Through the closeups of emotional facial expressions unique to their love for music, Irglová and Hansard can be seen growing infatuated with each other’s talent during their duet.
The musical shines for its intimacy, defying the belief that one needs a large budget in order to accomplish an unforgettable film. Shot in a mere 17 days, the crew got creative with their use of money by taking advantage of natural lighting, and shooting at Hansard’s flat with his friends and family (also non-actors). Although the film fell short when it came to switching up camera angles and coming up with visually stimulating scenes, every moment came across naturally and realistically, as if an invisible camera lens magically managed to capture raw moments of the “actors” in musical movement. In one of the most scenic shots of the film, Irglová improvises a genuine response not apart of the story’s script, telling Hansard “I love you” in Czech.
It is worth giving the low budget yet timeless film a watch because of its ability to capture feelings of loneliness in simple, nostalgic ways. The theme of having one person who will always be in your life no matter how far away digs deep; both characters are desperate to move forward to a dreamier reality, yet are too invested in nostalgia to escape. It is rare that a movie feels so real that one wonders how it was captured, and how the characters manage to play their parts so beautifully. “Once” wonderfully depicts a romantic relationship strung together by music and the need to be emotionally saved, which is sure to leave the viewer emotionally invested too.