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Sweet music: Once 

click to enlarge Guy and Girl: Who needs names when youve got deep, - knowing stares?
  • Guy and Girl: Who needs names when youve got deep, knowing stares?

*Once (R)

Kimball's Twin Peak
We fall in love with certain movies at different times, and in different ways. Maybe you're not sure until the credits roll, and a collective rush washes over you. Or maybe there's a single, indelible instant when you realize you're watching a story you'll hold dear.

I knew Once had me when an unnamed Guy (Glen Hansard, of Irish rock band The Frames) and an unnamed Girl (Markta Irglov) sit together in a music store, their voices joining in a duet so lovely that I knew I had discovered not just one of my favorite movies of the year, but also one of my favorite songs of the year all in the span of a few minutes.

Once is a musical of sorts, only not in the way you probably tend to think of musicals. The Guy is a Dublin street busker, a man who dreams of someday making music his livelihood. The Girl is a classically trained pianist, an immigrant from the Czech Republic making a meager living selling flowers and magazines in the street. Their first encounter plays like standard romantic comedy fare: She's impressed by his music when she hears him playing on the corner, and, son of a gun, if she doesn't also have a vacuum cleaner that's in need of repair at his father's shop.

Despite complications preventing a relationship, the two strike up a tentative friendship, eventually finding a moment together in that aforementioned music shop to play one of the Guy's compositions. The song they share is "Falling Slowly," a haunting love ballad with an insinuating verse and a soaring chorus. He strums on his old, battered guitar, while she finds a harmonic counterpoint to his lead vocal.

Writer/director John Carney Hansard's one-time Frames bandmate keeps the scene tight on Hansard and Irglov, watching as they both get an inkling that their voices together become something more than when each is alone. It's a nearly perfect melding of music and filmmaking, and Once keeps finding dynamic ways to incorporate Hansard's songs into the narrative.

What's remarkable about Once is that aside from the force of its musical moments, it's a surprisingly assured piece of filmmaking from a novice director and a couple musicians moonlighting as actors. Carney shoots his protagonists' first meeting by moving in tight on the Guy as he tears into a song with his eyes closed, pulling back only gradually to show he has an audience of one. Playing characters who dance awkwardly around what they might ultimately mean to each other, Hansard and Irglov turn in naturalistic and utterly winning performances, their every conversation invested with a sense of their growing connection.

The exact nature and function of that connection is yet another one of Once's singular charms, as it builds to a conclusion that seems beautifully inevitable only in retrospect. As "Falling Slowly" plays again over the closing credits, a new meaning unfolds to the chorus' refrain of "take this sinking boat and point it home."

The earnest yearning of Hansard's lyrics may not be for every taste, but then, this isn't really a story for those who need their recommended daily allowance of edge and irony. With a heartbreaking sincerity you don't often see in movies anymore, Once becomes the kind of film you can love while falling slowly or while falling hard in the span of a single song. scene@csindy.com

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