Monday, 22 October 2007

Once (2006, Ireland, John Carney)

How does a romantic comedy that cost approximately £70,000 to film make $10 million and counting at the US box office? Simple. Follow the conventions of the genre, but do in a way that feels original and fresh. John Carney, an ex-bassist in Irish band The Frames directs his former bandmate Glen Hansard and Czech newcomer Marketa Irglova in this Dublin-set tale of boy meets girl (Carney states that the setting of Dublin is that of around 15 years ago when it had more of a working class feel to it). The unnamed characters randomly meet one day when he is busking and she is working one of her numerous jobs that she has to undertake in order to support her family, who are recent immigrants. She too has musical talent, and impresses him with a recital of a piece by Mendelssohn, which leads him to ask her to add piano to one of his own songs "Falling Slowly".

Their musical collaboration mirrors their budding relationship, though they both have problems of the heart that get in the way. He's considering moving to England to win back his ex-girlfriend, whilst she has a husband back in the Czech Republic. When he asks whether she still loves him, she replies in unsubtitled Czech, though we instinctively know what she says. Still, Carney refuses to make the path of true love simple and doesn't rely on the kind of contrived slush that most films of the genre would fall back upon.

Much of Once's appeal depends on whether you love the music or not, which kind of falls into the kind of coffee table folk practiced by the likes of Damien Rice, though not quite as bland. It's not normally my thing, but works in context really well, but it might understandably be a hurdle for some. Still, the film was done wonders for the profile of The Frames, even drawing the attention of Bob Dylan who offered them a support slot on his latest tour. Some cynics see this as nothing more than a promo for the band. I don't know about that. There's certainly a sense of something about this film; maybe it's the fact that a no-budget film has succeeded in the US, maybe it's the fact that music is a core part of the film and not window dressing - that it actually drives the narrative, but moreover it works on an emotional level for me, which few, if any contemporary romantic comedies ever could.

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