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January 23, 2007

S07 reviews: Once

BOY MEETS GIRL: HOW HARD CAN THAT BE? Sometimes a movie leaves you with such a warm feeling, you just want to point people in the general direction of its reflected light, and not write about it, not describe modest virtues in a way that oversells genuine heart and soul. Once, a grand, effortless Irish musical povera (shot in two weeks on DV for 100,000 euros), written and directed by John Carney, scene 63 guy+girl at piano 1 .jpgwho was for several years in the fine band The Frames with star-composer Glen Hansard, is one of those movies. I saw it first thing Thursday morning and kept putting off writing about it... my eyes have welled up happily every time the fillum comes up with someone else who's seen it, adores it, loves it, too. Carney + Co. also work with some very sophisticated insights about the representation of music on film and also how one walks, talks, lives, breathes, stumbles, fumbles, triumphs, while trying to fashion any form of art. Hansard is the lanky, ginger-bearded "Guy" busking in a Dublin square who meets the "Girl," a slightly goofy, younger Czech émigré (Markéta Irglová) with an uncertain command of English. Carney introduces them with a simple shot that's breathtakingly right: we are watching Hansard play for a bit and then the camera pulls back, revealing Irglová's shoulder. Our POV becomes hers. The narrative strategy, built more around small misunderstandings and the making of songs, is similar. (Naked lyrics are quickly clothed in melody.) Layers peel away, their preconceptions of each other (and ours of them) fall away, and Hansard's music, as urgent and lovely as ever, grows in collaboration with someone who turns out not only to be a classical pianist, but a good lyricist and a fine singer. The Girl is not just a girl; they have talent to share. Let's make music together, all right? The most masterful stroke is this: Concert scenes in movies bear a simple ontological quandary. Live music is live music, and simply shooting a scene of a live gig with adequate or even innovative coverage is a representation of the live show, and not innately cinematic in itself. And, of course, the Dionysian element of the live performer enacting fantasy a few feet or yards away is meaningless on screen, lacking their human presence. A secondary insight is having songs play almost always to their conclusion, rather than cutting them into snippets of catchy hooks as many music-heavy movies do. There are so many things I've personally considered about how to depict the life of an artist, any form of artist, but especially musicians, without pretension or preciousness that these long-time mates have solved, and more than that, have made a wonderful, heartfelt movie. The music under the final scenes reprises a song we’ve seen the pair record; it’s heartbreaking on several levels, largely because Carney’s canny at how a song grows and thrives, as well as being a true king of Dublin. Once is more than just the best movie I've seen at Sundance so far, and I hope to have many occasions to write more about it later. Now pass me that feckin' tissue, wouldja? Fair play.

Posted by Ray Pride at January 23, 2007 01:34 PM

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