A musician lamenting a broken relationship and an immigrant form a friendship over their mutual love of music.

Starring Glen Hansard (The Frames) and Marketa Irglova, I revisited this sweet little movie* after listening to Marketa Irglova on Noisetrade, whom I recognized from the first time I watched the film.

Filmed on a shoestring budget and camera, the film is best known for the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly”, performed so memorably by the two main actors/singers. As much as I loved Enchanted, I’m glad this song won because not only is it a great song, the movie is a win for independent musicians and movies.

The film could be called a neo-realist musical:

Neorealism is characterized by a general atmosphere of authenticity. Andre Bazin, a French film theorist and critic, argued that neorealism portrays: truth, naturalness, authenticity, and is a cinema of duration. The necessary characteristics of neo-realism in film include

  • a definite social context;
  • a sense of historical actuality and immediacy;
  • political commitment to progressive social change;
  • authentic on-location shooting as opposed to the artificial studio;
  • a rejection of classical Hollywood acting styles; extensive use of non-professional actors as much as possible;
  • a documentary style of cinematography.

All of which you get in Once: Dublin city, modern day, a guy who fixes vacuum cleaners and a Czech immigrant who cleans houses and sells flowers, in ordinary scenes of busy malls, pubs and houses; the main actors Glenn and Marketa are certainly not professional actors, and the whole feel is more akin to a documentary: in musicals, the songs and music explore the heart and soul of our characters – here it also serves as a way into a new friendship, a new culture, and another person’s world.

The production is simple compared with nearly every other movie, suiting the humility of the story, but the quality of the musical performances alone make it must-see – at least once. If you love your music raw and acoustic, and want to watch something a little out of the ordinary about the ordinary, at 80-odd minutes Once is an easy watch.

* Some of the language grates while the main character struggles over loss and betrayal.