If ever there was musical or love story that has broader appeal than these genre boundaries suggest, then John Carney’s Once is that film. Like the Irish characters who populate it Once, somewhat raw and rough round the edges, is instilled with such charm and honesty that you can’t fail but be drawn into its uncomplicated story. Basically a boy meets girl piece, Once abounds with emotion and chemistry; Carney’s treatment refreshing and unique.
Director John Carney purposefully pitched Once as a low budget effort with the goal of maintaining creative control and keeping the production a somewhat relaxed affair. His efforts were well rewarded as the money people – also at relative ease due to the low financial risk the project presented – were happy for him to take the project where he would. This ultimately led to a film which is lifted above the sum of its constituent parts due to the amazing chemistry captured in the two principal leads: “Boy” and “Girl”, played by non-actor musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
Glen, an old friend of the director’s, had been involved early on writing songs for the film project. Marketa and Glen had been doing some recording together and hence Glen suggested her as another musical input. After no joy on the casting front the light suddenly dawned on Carney that it might be better for him to cast a musician who could act a little rather than an actor who might be able to sing. It was a small jump from there to suggesting that Glen & Marketa fill these roles as they could easily pull off songs that they themselves had written, not to mention that they already had a connection as friends.
Once eschews the lavishly staged spectacle we usually associate with musicals for something that an audience can connect with; a film which is more akin in style and visual aesthetic to documentary than to fiction. It is interesting to hear comments regarding some of Carney’s directorial decisions in the special features. He successfully capitalised on the already present chemistry between the two leads by being as non-invasive as possible with the camera. This involved ‘starting’ their scenes well out of shot, then shooting from a distance with zoom lenses so that the actors wouldn’t be disturbed by the camera. These choices had both positive and negative visual consequences. For example: there are shots where extras, or even random people, cross in front of the camera’s line of sight which is occasionally distracting. On the flip-side the hoped for naturalism in the non-actors is also mostly achieved. Ultimately, this makes for a very raw but engaging production.
Another insight shared by Carney is his reliance upon simplicity. He outlines the very simple story arc that he built the film around. No serpentine plots here, and yet he manages to achieve a sense of originality and provides a refreshing take on his simple romantic premise.
Without a doubt, a film like this stands or falls on its music. The fact that you have the two principal song writers delivering the material creates a sense of immediacy rarely felt in musicals that I have seen. And music is where the chemistry between Glen and Marketa really ignites. These two have a musical bond which comes through so strongly onscreen that it imbues truth in all the emotional (lyrical and musical) content in the songs – and hence the story. The film’s music was so convincing and strongly romantic that we snapped up a copy of the soundtrack album as soon as it was released.
John Carney’s cinematic redefinition of a flagging genre is likely to capture all but the staunchest of “action-only” movie goers. Though it noticeably lacks production polish and suffers occasionally from the unsure eye of a new director, Once more than makes up for this with its grit and originality. A film not to be missed.
The features are somewhat sparse and a little disappointing for a relatively new film. This may have to do with the relatively low budget – ie: little money thrown at the features. The two short ‘making of…’ featurettes provide you with a few interesting nuggets which open up the filmmaker’s process somewhat but end up feeling like a taster; leaving you wanting a whole lot more.
The audio commentary does make for good listening if you’ve got the time. Still, with a total runtime of only 86mins this would be one of the more likely films to get a full commentary viewing. Carney is effusive, displaying a blend of passion, humour, and humility whilst Hansard & Irglova both bring the fresh unaffected perspective of non-actors who’ve thoroughly enjoyed their silver screen experience. The musical commentary is a nice touch, if a little less in depth than some may like. Hansard, and to a lesser degree, Iglova come to the fore here with commentary about most of the musical pieces of the film (totalling a stunning 60% of the movie!) they provide enough technical insight to appeal to musos whilst also being accessible to anyone who has enjoyed the songs. Carney also has some relevant thoughts to share – as it turns out he used to play bass for a time in Carney’s band The Frames.
Overall, this is not too bad I guess for a single disc release, though for my taste give me a second disc with a 90min making of feature and plenty of random titbits to boot!
DVD Info + Special Features
» Region 4 PAL
» Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
» Dolby 2.0 Stereo
» Languages: English 2.0
» Optional subtitles: English
» Audio commentary with director John Carney and Actor/Musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
» Musical commentary with director John Carney and Actor/Musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
» Making of a modern day musical (featurette)
» More guy, more girl (featurette)
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: M – Contains offensive language
Duration: 86 mins
Genre: Drama / Biopic
Director: John Carney (2007)
Actors: Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova.
Country: Eire (Republic of Ireland)
Release Date: Available now.