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Thursday, June 21, 2007


ModFab On...Once

Starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Written by John Carney
Directed by John Carney
R for language
Trailers - Showtimes - Soundtrack

What's astonishing about Once, the tiny independent movie musical currently creeping into cities across America, is how authentic it seems. Musicals can be many things, but rarely can they be described as "authentic"; in musicals, people break into song on the street for no reason, for crying out loud. Fantasy sequences are common, and if you're not careful, people dressed as cats will start dancing. Musicals are almost by definition a luxe experience, rich in detail and production design. They wear their hearts on their sleeve...usually surrounded by rhinestones and neon. Authentic they are not.

Once, on the other hand, offers up all the tricks of cinema verite: it is shot with one shakily-handheld camera, with no discernable lighting or makeup. Its sets are the streets of Dublin, its characters the denizens of a stretch of sidewalk where Guy (Glen Hansard) makes his living as a street performer. Recently dumped and heartbroken, Guy's guitar-strummed tunes ache with longing in a refreshingly honest way. When a Girl comes along (Markéta Irglová) who just happens to play the piano, it seems to be a match made in movie-musical heaven...but their flirtation plays out in unexpected, surprising ways. With most performances shot live (and recorded in one take) and dozens of extras who don't seem to realize they are in a movie at all, Once is exceptional because it cleaves through the conventions of musical form, leaving the raw emotion but junking the showy glitz.

Writer-director John Carney won the Audience Award at Sundance last winter for this film; its bracing uniqueness makes it easy to peg as a crowd-pleaser. Once has something for everyone: a scrappy indie sensibility for the aesthetes, a sex-free romance for the prudes, a smart-as-a-tack script for intellectuals, and sympathetic characters for the rest of us. Let's not dismiss the songs, however; "When Your Mind's Made Up" reveals a startlingly talented composer in Hansard, whose impassioned voice and fragile performances form the film's emotional center. A film like this could never be a summer blockbuster, of course. It's too small, it's too good. Besides, it truly can appeal to everyone. Who's interested in something like that?

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