Produced on a shoestring budget of £100,000, Once is the definition of an intimate and naturalistic film. Tracking the burgeoning relationship between an Irish busker, Glen Hansard, and a Czech immigrant, Markéta Irglová, filmmaker John Carney’s musical romance is a sweet tale of how the beauty of music has the ability to draw these two unnamed people from dissimilar backgrounds together.
Finding truth in the authentic chemistry shared between Hansard, Irglová and the real-world presence of modern-day Dublin, Carney’s tale is a simple one, but one that nonetheless has every piece needed to charm the pants off anyone who watches it. From the odd way in which Hansard proposes to spend more time with Irglová (by fixing her hoover in his fathers shop, where he works part time) to the romantic jaunt they share, Once is perfectly attuned to the innocent ways in which two people can fall in love.
Their relationship isn’t as straightforward as you might think, though, as Hansard pines for his ex-girlfriend who now lives in London and Irglová has a husband back in the Czech Republic about whom she refused to open up. Both are initially afraid to admit their growing feelings towards one another, but as they agree to record an album worth of songs together, their bond strengthens through their shared love for honest, passionate and heart-felt music, as well as the odd eccentric track thrown in to reflect their similarly foolish personalities.
This is where the film comes into its own and wows like the demure force it is. Carney, implementing the now infamous shaky cam technique, frames his characters beautifully in shades of light and darkness as their souls gradually, and defiantly, become intertwined due to their musical affection. The songs they sing are often silly and spontaneous, but nevertheless accurately represent the emotions they’re feeling better than any words or gesture could.
Due to the fact they’re able to flourish as their true selfs, Hansard and Irglová shine, with their relationship forever feeling truthful and grounded in an overwhelming sense of reality. Where they end up come the film’s end credits feels entirely natural to their individual personalities, and signals the perfect culmination to their unexpected affiliation. Steeped in matter-of-fact musical sensibilities (a soundtrack that stands the test of time as its own product), this love story flourishes and genuinely feels as though Carney captured it as it happened, graciously refusing to step things up in order to make it attractive to a wider audience.
Whether you’re a romantic at heart or not, Once is a special kind of film – one that will sweep you off your feet, bring music to your ears (quite literally) and make you believe these kinds of whirlwind situations really can happen. If you haven’t done so already, see this film and forever swoon over its virtue.