Went to see the Dodgers play the Mets the other night and spotted Richard Lewis sitting nearby. A New Yorker to his bones no doubt, he was rooting hard for the Mets, which means he probably didn’t have a very good night since the Dodgers got in three home runs on three straight pitches in the second inning. Later in the game they did the Kiss Cam thing in between innings and in the middle of it cut to Lewis with the woman he was with. To say that he looked like he would rather have a bullet in his brain at that moment may be an understatement.
Slightly more touching than Richard Lewis caught by the Kiss Cam is ONCE, a non-musical musical which is easily one of the most romantic films I’ve seen in a while. Glen Hansard plays a street musician in Dublin (named in the credits as “Guy”) who works at his father’s vacuum cleaner repair store. While singing a particularly passionate song that he wrote to what he thinks is an empty street one night he meets a girl (named in the credits as “Girl”) played by Markéta Irglová. After some conversation it comes out that she plays the piano and once they play together the musical connection that exists between them is impossible to deny. As they continue to creatively inspire and possibly fall for each other, it becomes clear that they also have to deal with the realities of certain other issues in their lives.
Hansard and Irglová are both actual musicians, not professional actors, who have also become a real-life couple and their chemistry here is impossible to deny. The songs they perform happen and sneak up on you in a way that is somehow magical. It’s also an energizing look at the creative process in how the characters are almost reborn in what they do for each other. Some of the most potent pieces here stayed with me after the movie was done. Strangely, I almost got the soundtrack album immediately after seeing it, but decided I wanted the purity of what I’d just heard to linger for a little while first. And it has.
There’s a little bit here reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET double bill, which are the most recent films this could be compared to. But more importantly ONCE is the first film I’ve seen in a long time that brings to mind Jacques Demy, the French auteur of THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT. CHERBOURG, a bittersweet romance--an operetta, really--which contains songs that remain standards to this day, is the most well known but it’s LOLA, his first film, that really comes to mind here. From its provincial setting to the possibilities of meeting someone who will change your world while walking down the street, it’s LOLA that comes to mind, even if the two film’s plots have nothing in common. LOLA also isn’t a musical and ONCE has a gritty visual style which doesn’t resemble Demy at all, but there’s a sense of yearning, heartbreak and possibility that the films share that it’s hard not to wonder if Demy’s work wasn’t at least a small inspiration to writer-director John Carney.
Either way, ONCE is a very special film. I’ll get the soundtrack eventually, but for now the spell that this film and music have cast remains with me and its power is a beautiful thing.