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Once (2007)

Once. Feature film. (2006, 85 mins) IMDB

...Can you watch this film just once?...

D

ublin, Ireland. A young man stands on a city street as he sings and plays his guitar. On the ground in front of him is his guitar case. A few coins tossed inside. Everything about him is Irish.

She's not Irish. She came from the Czech Republic with her mother and young daughter, Ivonka. She walks the same streets selling flowers where she can. She gets a job cleaning house for some rich family.

They know each other because of these streets. They've met before the film starts. (Showing a first meeting would have been better).

Both are poor. Both with an interest and affinity for music. Both wanting something. Man and woman. A love story has started. It must be a musical but without the dancing, and even then it's a different type of musical.

Because she has a broken vacuum cleaner and his father runs a repair shop for such things, the writer creates a reason for them to get to know one another better. He's clearly interested in her. She seems to be as well, but really she's more sensible and pragmatic.

She knows he sings and plays guitars, learns he writes his own songs. Some songs have no lyrics and she takes a turn at composing them. He learns she plays piano, but since she can't afford one, she has to sneak off to play at a musical store. The owner lets her.

It wouldn't be a love story if there weren't others involved. There is a father to her daughter who is somewhere else. A missing father and a missing husband. She's ambivalent about reuniting with him.

Our Irishman had a girlfriend who screwed someone else and ran off to London. He's heartbroken and dreaming of better things, still thinking about her, thinking about London while our Czech beauty lives in the moment under the crushing realty of life.

It brings them together because it gives them a reason for him to make his moves on her and he tries and tries, but she's not going there and doesn't. Because of that, the focus shifts to the future and music. He has talent, she has talent. Make a demo and go for something big.

A large sequence of the film deals with booking a recording studio and spending a weekend in it to record his songs. Non-stop they play and record. Listen to the playback. Here, it's all about the music as if watching a music video but without the special effects or wizardry designed to dazzle the eyes. A non-plus, jaded engineer turns when he realizes what he's listening to isn't another cover band.

One of the best moments in the film has little to do with them and everything to do with them. It's about a banker they've some to see to secure a loan, money to pay for the recording session. The scene starts out in typical way. Staid and dour. The two heroes explains what they want. They play a tape of his songs. The banker doesn't speak, there's not one reason a rational banker would lend them money, none, but cut forward where the banker, in his suit, in his office, plays a guitar and sings, "I've got to be me." Very funny. Don't think a cut, a simple cut can't create humour because it does and it's been used in many films.

There's no great triumph in this movie. It isn't ROCKY. It's more a documentary of two people who seem to actually exist. The style of filming reflects that.

Our hero has his demo. He tries to convince her come to London but she won't. Too much baggage. He trucks on for a flight to London and while he's leaving, a delivery van arrives at her apartment with a piano he bought for her. Never mind he doesn't have the money. Never mind she may be forced to move and can't bring it with her. Never mind we have no certainty about happily ever after. As I said this is a different sort of musical.

There's nothing I didn't like about this film. The question is why. First, no melodramatics. There are no drunk Irishman. No one wanting to throw a punch or threatening to throw a punch. No one yelling and screaming. Second, the setup is different. An Irish musician in Dublin? Sure, but a Czech sweetie with her head screwed on. Not a chance you've seen those two before. And, you don't expect what you follows. Nothing about it is predictable. She doesn't jump into bed with him, doesn't wax poetic about love, and, it's entirely believable and refreshing.

ROCKY had its underdog and this film has its. Both are interesting films in their own way.

Posted 2009/03/05 at 21h14ET in Movie Commentary.

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