Now, trying to sell this film on it's premise is not doing it justice: Irish musical about a vacuum cleaner repairman busker , or as he sings "a broken-hearted Hoover fixer sucker guy" (Glen Hansard) meets Big Issue selling Czech immigrant pianist (Marketa Irglova) and they start writing songs. Now, describing it as a musical seems wrong too. Rather than a musical (which just conjures up images of schmaltz and dancing in the streets) it's more a film with lots of music that helps move the story on, reflects the characters moods and situations and tells without force-feeding. It's really like nothing else I've ever seen. It's so naturalist and moving. It's like you're a voyeur in real situations, sharing, not intruding.
The acting seems improvised and very realistic. It's not sharply scripted but has all the faults and repetitions, pauses and silences that real conversations have. The handheld camerawork is the same, this isn't a beautiful looking film. That's not a fault: It doesn't glamourise and it's not a Hollywood "Oyerland" on display, but Ireland as a real place.
The music itself is beautiful, much of it sung and played on-set and written and performed by the leads. I guess it would help if you like the singer/songwriter acoustic style of music but I'm sure it would be just as affecting a film if you didn't. The girl (the characters aren't named) hears the guy busking in the street and loves his original compositions. She asks who they are written for and their relationship is kick started through a love of music and how it can express their feelings. When they start playing and writing together their thoughts and feelings are reflected in the lyrics and mood of the melancholy melodies. It's strange that the movie seems so downbeat but is extremely uplifting. It also ends in a completely un-Hollywood but completely satisfying way.
Once has been a huge success in Hollywood, without any fanfare of the usual big budget extravaganza . It's gained some very famous fans, Speilberg, Bob Dylan, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Aniston, James Spader, the list is endless, and it won the audience prize at the Sundance Film Festival. With word-of-mouth like that it's doing someting right.
If you only go to the cinema once this autumn/winter, make sure it's to see Once.