If you like romance and music, I’ve got a movie for you: “Once” (2007)

July 20, 2008 | By | 5 Replies More

I knew something was up when, in the opening scene of the film, an actor was playing the guitar but he really knew how to handle that guitar.

“Once,” which was written and directed by John Carney, is a low-budget ($160,000) Irish love story that deservedly won a slew of awards. The film features musicians Glen Hansard (a first-rate musician who has played with the Irish rock band The Frames) and Markéta Irglová as struggling Dublin musicians who fall in love, creating the atmosphere for their encounters with the music that they wrote and performed both in the movie and in real life (all but one of the many songs performed during the movie were written and performed by Hansard and Irglová. Carney knew of Hansard because Carney had played bass guitar in a band with Hansard prior to becoming a film director.

Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to make high-quality music with someone with whom they have a romantic urge knows a secret that I’m a bit hesitant to share: playing music really can be better than sex. Director John Carney knew that the music-making between the two costars had to be the focus because, in this film, the music carried the romance on several levels. The intensity of the romance was palpable throughout the film, especially during an early scene where the costars “borrowed” a music store as a scene for their first jam.

My wife Anne sings and plays the flute (no, not at the same time!) and I play guitar and sing. We’ve performed together as musicians–we thus know a thing or two about the intersection between romance and music. We arranged for Netflix to send us this DVD. We watched it tonight and we both thought highly of it. We were astounded at how incredibly personal the film was. I didn’t know anything about the actors until after the video had finished playing, but then we watched some of the special features and were amazed. It was only then that I realized that Hansard had almost no acting experience prior to this film and that the beautiful Czech Markéta Irglová had absolutely no acting experience. As it turns out, Hansard recommended Irglová for the part. Prior to this project, Irglová and Hansard had worked together as musicians (she plays guitar and piano).

Consider this: How often do you see an award-winning film starring two adults with almost no acting experience? In an interview, director Carney claims that “anyone can act,” but that it is a matter of bringing it out. He succeeded in bringing out the costars’ inner-actors by carefully setting the moods for each scene, drawing on lots of improvising during the shooting and utilizing lots and lots of carefully crafted hand-held video.

Fate assisted Carney in bringing out the chemistry between the actors in “Once.” The 37-year-old Hansard and the 19-year-old Irglová started falling in love with each other while this film was being shot. Carney recognized one of his roles, then, as trying to disguise some of these intense natural feelings between the actors, rather than trying to concoct them. Of course, the film gives us some complications along the way, enough to keep the film interesting.

The end result was phenomenal, and it didn’t hurt that the music was so musical. I’m not trying to be silly with his comment. So very often, music is assembled and cranked out rather than performed from the heart. It is for this reason that there are many terrific musicians with basic musical skills who are better musicians than professionals with higher-level technical skills. The ability to play from the heart is thus the great leveler of musicians.

I certainly won’t spoil the plot for any of you who might want to rent this fine video. When you’re done watching it, though, I guarantee that you’ll think of the characters as real life people who are still living their lives across the Atlantic Ocean. This video seemed so real that the actors commented that they have been approached by quite a few people (subsequent to the film’s release) who asked about how things were going these days, as though this fictional drama were a real-life documentary. Not that anyone could blame them for the confusion . . .

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. 18 years age difference between a young woman and an older dude – that's the conventional patriarchal notion of romance. Obviously I'm not in the mood for luuurve… Blech… "Go watch 'Harold & Maude'", I know…

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    The movie never indicated that there was that much age difference. It surprised me to learn of this difference. I assumed it was 10 years. I was speaking of the age difference of the actors.

  3. Susan says:

    I came to the same conclusion as Carney after seeing The Story of the Weeping Camel and The Cave of the Yellow Dog which both featured people who had never acted before and were quite beautiful. It made me realise that the director is paramount in drawing out the desired performance. The films also had an integrity that is hard to achieve when you're watching Hollywood fare and can't help but be conscious of the big name stars 'acting'.

  4. Romance is a social construct just like race. :p I'll change my mind when they produce more movies where the woman is older than the man.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    The movie characters part ways from the real life characters:

    The real-life romance that blossomed out of Oscar-winning indie "Once" is over. Glen Hansard confirmed he is no longer dating Marketa Irglova. The previous unknowns co-starred in the 2007 film and became international sensations, eventually winning last year's Oscar for best original song for "Falling Slowly" and getting a record deal. Since then, they have toured together, but now it's just as friends.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/27/once-cou

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