Once is a dreamy film set against the green-grey hues of wintry Dublin and accompanied by the plaintive music of that city's residents. The film's deceptively simple story centers around one of Ireland's unnamed poetic denizens, billed just as "guy," and played by wide-eyed Frames frontman Glen Hansard. He is a busker who croons longing songs, accompanied by a broken guitar, standing alone with his muse on a fancy shopping thoroughfare. One day, he meets a Czech emigre, "girl" (played by Hansard's recent musical collaborator Markéta Irglová) and finds out that she, too, is a musician. She plays a piano in the back of a shop because she can't afford her own. Together, they finish writing some songs and then record them, and their sweet and intense process of music-making is the essence of Once.
Many of the movie's scenes are long, gorgeous sequences with no sound, but Hansard's songs in the background--making it a sort of musical, but one without characters bursting into spontaneous, plot-moving numbers. And it's not a love story in the most traditional sense, because both guy and girl are entangled adults without much room to be impulsive. And after all, falling for someone is not as simple and sunshiny as the Drew Barrmore-Hugh Grant stab at the same theme, Music and Lyrics, would have us believe. Unlike that high-budget film, Once has no contrived lovemaking, no dramatic fights and reconciliations, and no climactic concert-hall triumphs.
But the film and its gorgeously melancholy soundtrack are a far more satsifying ode to the deep intimacy that comes from partnership and the joy of creating something with someone who understands you. Our guy and girl's relationship is as much Lennon and McCartney as Romeo and Juliet.
Director and writer John Carney also gives us an honest look at the artists' life--through his characters' existences, we see the bittersweet consequences of forsaking conventional life to pursue art, and vice-versa. Once is a wispy cloud of a film that will please fans of music, Ireland and love.