26 November 2014

Once (starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová)

Amazon recommended this film to me; the blurb and most of the reviews suggested that it was a gentle, touching love story about two lonely people who discovered each other through a shared love of music. So I put it on my wishlist and was given it for my birthday earlier in the year.

We saw that it was rated ‘15’, so were prepared for a certain amount of ‘adult content’; what we did not expect was that the film would open with a string of profanities. We saw a street musician (Glen Hansard) strumming his guitar, and swearing at the passers by if they seemed in any way to threaten him. At least that’s what we assume; the accents were strongly Irish, and the ‘f’ word was, unfortunately, the only thing we could make out.

The busker - we never learn his name - is thrown ten cents by a Czech girl played by Markéta Irglová (we don’t learn the girl's name either, although these two are the main characters throughout). They strike up a conversation in which he reveals that his main job is fixing vacuum cleaners, and she asks if he will mend hers. She returns a day later, vacuum cleaner in tow (literally) and they visit a music shop where she shows her talent on the piano.

Then they decide to make a recording together, haggling for the price of a recording session at a local studio, and pulling in various other random buskers to help…

It’s a nice idea; these two lonely people become friendly, talking together about their past and difficult relationships that they still regret, interspersed with the busker’s style of music to help them explore their feelings. I can see why it was so popular and highly rated by many; the two are talented musicians, and some of the songs won international awards. It’s billed in one of the extras as a modern day musical; perhaps that’s what it is, although it doesn’t function in any way like musicals of the past. The songs are good but not catchy; there’s nobody leaping into choreographed routines, and while there are some visual sequences during some of the songs, they’re rather hit-and-miss, and somewhat confusing.

Perhaps the worst thing about this was that the camera was continually shaky. It looked at first like an error, but continued throughout; my husband felt queasy at times, and I had to close my eyes when it got particularly bad. I realise that this is a popular ‘technique’ with some young people but it’s highly disturbing to others.

The ‘extra’ documentary explained that this was done on a very low budget, filmed from a distance, and mostly ad libbed. Neither of the two main cast are actors: it was thought more important to use good musicians. This explains why much of the dialogue seemed unnecessary, not taking the story anywhere. I did like the chemistry between the two characters, but apparently they are good friends in real life.

It was oddly appealing and we kept watching, although the songs were too similar for my taste, and went on too long, and there really wasn’t much plot. It could have gone one of two ways (they get together or they don’t…) and it went the way I wasn’t expecting, but worked quite well, though it was a bit abrupt.

At one stage I’d have given this two stars, but I think three is probably fairer; it’s an interesting and thought-provoking story, and the music parts are well done. But the bad language - which recurred through the film, though only that one word, over and over - was extremely irritating and entirely unnecessary; I assume it was put in so as to raise the rating from PG to 15 (R in the US) as there is nothing else that could warrant even a 12 rating. In addition, the constantly wobbly camera was highly disturbing.

But by all means watch it once if you can deal with the bad language and wobbly camera; it's unusual, and oddly haunting.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's DVD Reviews