This week’s featured film in our films set in Ireland spotlight is fairly recent. But it’s destined to become a classic. It’s a whimsical little musical called Once. Released in 2007, it’s a charming romance that features a soundtrack you’re sure to buy after you see the movie. It’s not a musical in the traditional movie musical way with lavish production numbers. But it’s one of the most charming indie films to come out in a long time.
As Once opens, Guy (Glen Hansard) is playing his guitar on Grafton Street in Dublin. He goes chasing after a man who steals his money. Later a young flower selling girl (Marketa Irglova) is drawn to him when she hears his music. The two strike up a conversation where the girl learns that the street musician repairs Hoovers. The next day, the flower girl meets up with the street musician again. She brings her Hoover for him to fix and reveals that she is also a musician.
There is a music store where the girl plays piano. Guy teaches her one of his songs. The girl is later invited by Guy over to his father’s shop. On the bus ride to the shop, Guy reveals through song what his songs are about. They turn out to be about a girl who cheated on him and then left him.
Guy introduces the girl to his father and then invites her to stay the night. She is insulted and leaves. But they reconcile the next day. The duo then spend the week writing and recording songs. As they work together, they find out more and more about one another. For example, the flower selling girl lives with her mother and also has a toddler. She also has a husband in the Czech Republic. Guy also still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend. While sorting through their personal issues, they manage to secure a bank loan, hire some musicians, and get some time in a recording studio to create a demo tape.
After an all-night recording session, they part ways. The girl reveals she spoke with her husband on the phone and will be coming to Dublin to live with her. Guy ends up going to London. He calls his ex-girlfriend ahead of his arrival. She is excited to see him. As a final romantic gesture, Guy orders a piano and has it delivered to the flower selling girl’s home.
Once was shot in just 17 days on a shoestring budget, Many of the shooting locations were homes of the cast and crew. The Dublin street scenes were filmed on location. As IMDB notes,
The Dublin street scenes were recorded without permits so a long lens was used. Many passers-by didn’t even realize that they were being filmed. The long lens also helped the non-professional actors relax and forget that they were on camera.
Once didn’t have the resources of a big budget film. But it makes up for it in pure charm. The songs are touching, funny and are creatively used to tell the story of the two musicians. The two leads lacked experience. Hansard had one prior acting credit in a minor role in The Commitments. Marketa Irglova made her acting debut in the film. Hansard and Irglova’s chemistry lights up the screen. When the film is over, you’re sad to say goodbye to these delightful and complex characters.
The film went on to be a box office and critical success. It took home the Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film. One of the film’s songs, Falling Slowly, won an Oscar for Best Original Song. And the soundtrack garnered a Grammy nomination. Once became the little film that could. It won over critics and audiences. Once is a musical for people who don’t like traditional musicals as well as people who just enjoy a movie that’s a good slice of life.