Still shell-shocked from a couple of monster budget blockbusters, I turned to Once and was reminded again of cinema’s most humble roots. It is absolutely astonishing to see the beauty that can be created with a camera, non-actors and a modest budget ($160,000). The plot may be minimal but the story is rich and surprising without guile.
This is a film for anyone who loves music, its creation, performance and the feelings it evokes. Music can be a solitary experience or a communal one, a catharsis or an incitement… all of which is portrayed with heart though this deceptively simple tale of two musicians who meet and make beautiful music (no pun intended). And yes, the music by leads Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová is indeed beautiful. For once, an Oscar winner for Best Original Song is not some throwaway pop tune slapped together to boost soundtrack sales.
The chemistry between Hansard and Irglová — simply labeled Guy and Girl in the credits — is sweetly intimate without pandering to any obvious romantic conclusions. Neither are professional actors; they are musicians. Cillian Murphy reportedly turned down the role, balking at the notion of being paired with a non-actor. As much as I admire Murphy, I’m grateful that he declined. When Guy meets Girl, the awkwardness between them is charmingly real. Both are naturally in their element when playing music and so it is natural that they should connect over a duet.
Like a busker playing a catchy tune, Once draws you in gently, making you pause in your tracks until you are applauding for more.