Monday, February 25, 2008

Guy meets Girl, and beautiful music ensues:
why Once is more than enough

I'll just come right out and say it: Once was my favorite film of last year.

I'm saying this now cause I don't know when the hell I'll ever get around to making a top ten list. Hell, I still haven't made one for '06. But I wanted to get this out there while people still cared.

For the record, I didn't think Once was #1 material when I first saw it. I thought it'd be sitting somewhere in my top five, but with writing, directing and acting that I still can't justify as nomination-worthy, could I really justify calling it the year's best film?

The answer turned out to be a resounding "yes", for it has lingered in my heart like no other. Or at least, like no other film last year. I of course haven't seen all I plan to see, but I don't expect anything to overtake it. It's just got that special magic (yes, Glenn, IT REALLY DOES). Getting to know this film was like falling in love... the first time I saw it, something caught my eye... I wasn't quite expecting it, and didn't know what to do with it, but I saw enough there to get me interested... so I saw it again... and again... and though we've had our rough spots, I always go back to loving it, more and more all the time. Falling slowly, indeed.

Maybe it's because I'm a musician... or at least, I wanna be. My parents are musicians. My dad still plays and teaches for a living. My mom gave up piano for medicine. But they met in music school and are musicians through and through. I owe my very existence, quite literally, to music. But I stupidly quit piano when I was still young, because I hadn't yet grasped music's significance... and I never picked up any other instrument... so now all I have is my voice. Music is in my blood, but not in my hands.

Thankfully, my voice is almost enough. I've been blessed with an instrument I'm proud of. I have a lot of work to do on it, but I'm convinced it can take me somewhere. Unfortunately, a voice on its own can't take me far. I can't write, or even perform very much, with just my voice. I'm trying, but it's hard. I'm actually considering taking up guitar JUST so I can play and sing "Falling Slowly." There are, of course, other perks to knowing guitar, but this song is what might push me over the hump to actually picking up the instrument and learning it.

But anyway, enough about me; back to the film. Even beyond the music, which is reason enough to love it, it has a distinct magic about that's hard to describe. It boasts no impressive production values or technical virtuosity, but it's one of the most heartfelt films I've ever seen. And isn't "heart" the most important thing? Isn't that why we make films and tell stories in the first place? I'd like to think so.

The trendier, more universally "critically acclaimed" films this year pride themselves on their stark nihilism. No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood (probably my #2 and #3, respectively) are impressive indeed, and disturbing to the core, but Once offers more than that. It doesn't shy away from the unpleasantness in the world - it's touted as a "feel-good film" but it's a stretch to call it "happy" - but it offers a brief respite from said unpleasantness. In many ways, it's a cute little Irish Dancer in the Dark, without the bludgeoning.

When Glen and Marketa discover each other in the music store, something happens. I see in this scene a metaphor for creation, and indeed, for life itself. Out of the mess of madness and disorder and senselessness (notice the curious emptiness before guy meets girl), order is imposed, connections are made... between notes, moments, and hearts. The backsliding of the modern world is reversed for an instant. The sinking boat points back toward home. Life becomes worth living again. While these two make music, they feel alive, and so do we.

That they must eventually part is made all the more painful by the beauty they share so fleetingly. But thankfully, on film (or maybe video, this time), that beauty can last forever.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's just got that special magic"

Not Glenn, but nope, it doesn't. The MUSIC does. I think people confuse that with the actual movie, which was incredibly dull whenever no music was going on. It was Lost in Translation without the brilliant acting on a $5 budget.

1:00 PM  
Blogger adam k. said...

Since the music is so central to the film in this case, I think the magic transfers. And I think John Carney deserves credit for creating such a perfect story and film to frame it and let it shine.

I think people just have different ideas about what is most important in making a film great. Some people like acting, some like cinematography, some like story, etc. I personally LOVE music in films. Most of my favorite films are musical in some way, and my memories and impressions of said films are tied to the music.

And I personally loved the music in Once more than anything else in any other film this year. And I disagree that it was dull whenever no music was going on.

2:25 PM  

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