Folks say that the Irish respect feeling more than thinking, that they are known for leading with their hearts. Watching the charming Irish film “Once” made me think there may be something to that. The songs of love and heartbreak in this film are full of complex emotion, but they never feel overly sentimental because the emotions flow so naturally from these characters.
“Once” is the story of a couple of unnamed musicians: an Irish lad (Glen Hansard) and an immigrant lass (Marketa Irglova) from some Eastern European country. The girl is impressed by the guy’s sidewalk guitar performances and plays piano for him at the music shop where she gets to play during lunchtime every day. Rather than hopping straight into bed as you might expect, they channel their chemistry to write songs together. These haunting ballads of longing and loss help them each heal their own broken heart. The songs were written by the two actors Hansard and Irglova, and one of them (“Falling Slowly”) won the Oscar for Best Original Song in a Movie. Not bad.
“Once” is not a strict musical because the actors do talk in between songs, but a lot of the story is in the music. Hansard sings about how his girlfriend’s cheating causes him to look back on all their times together with a more cynical eye, which leaves him grieving not only her loss but the loss of those good memories. Irglova sings one about how marrying and having a child young left her feeling lonely in a marriage to a man who didn’t seem to understand her. Normally this kind of emotional content would have me snoozing, but something about these songs made me care.
Audiences weaned on pop princesses and movies where the guy is guaranteed to get the girl may find “Once” hard to get into. For anyone who enjoys subtlety in music and film, this movie is a real treat.
4.5 stars out of 5.