Directed by: John Carney
Written by:John Carney
Starring: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova, Geoff Minogue
Released: August 30, 2007
Grade: A

Once is the best romantic film I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s simple and it’s honest.  I first saw it at the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) four weeks ago and I’ve been struggling to get it out of head.  I’m still humming songs from the soundtrack.

Set in Dublin, there is a guy (Hansard) who repairs vacuum cleaners for a living.  It’s his dad’s business and it doesn’t provide much income but it’s enough to get by on.  His mother died several years ago and both he and his father live together in a small house.  They don’t have a lot of money but you can tell they are nice people.  They make the most of what they have.

When he’s not working at the vacuum shop, this guy goes busking on the streets of London.  He takes his guitar, finds a nice open spot and plays popular music for people to enjoy.  Nothing gives him more satisfaction than brightening the day of a group of passers-by.  If can pick up a few extra dollars then it’s even better.

One evening, a Czech girl (Irglova) walks past and hears the guy playing some of his original songs.  She’s impressed and starts up a conversation.  They share a love of music and a love of life.  Over the next few days, they spend a lot of time together.  They chat about their past and their also their hopes for the future.  The world around them seems to stop – all they want to do is enjoy each other’s company.

The guy has always dreamed of leaving his small job behind and making it professionally as a singer-songwriter.  But it’s always been just that – a dream.  It’s the kind of thing that you hope will happen but deep down, you know it probably won’t.  The girl’s arrival changes all that.  Her enthusiasm for his songs and her willingness to help out is inspiring.  Together, they take out a business loan and hire a music studio for a weekend.  The plan is to make a demo tape which can be sent out to the major music studios.  With any luck, someone will be interested.

You’ll have noticed that I haven’t referred to either the guy or the girl by name.  That’s because they are never mentioned during the movie.  It’s another reason why the film seems so uncomplicated and easy to watch.

The male star of the film is Glen Hansard, lead vocalist of an Irish band known as The Frames.  They have released six albums since 1990 and opened for Bob Dylan on his recent tour of Australia.  As the female lead, Marketa Irglova is also a very talented piano player and song writer.  Hansard and Irglova first met in Prague and eventually released an album together called The Swell Season.

Writer-director John Carney (who was a former member of The Frames) came up with the idea for the film and Hansard agreed to write the songs.  Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins) was cast in the leading role and production was about to begin.

Fortunately (as it would turn out), Murphy pulled out of the project and so did the producers.  Carney convinced Hansard to step into the feature role, despite the fact he had never acted before, and managed to make the film for just $150,000.  The end result is a beautiful motion picture which won the audience award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (which celebrates independent cinema).

When I saw this film at BIFF, it was introduced as being the “perfect first date movie”.  It’s an apt description.  Once is filled with happy moments and it subscribes to a theory that I have longed believed in – that good things happen to good people.