Once (Ireland; 85 min.)

directed by: John Carney
starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Danuse Ktrestova

Bruce says: "Curious how such a film could become a critic's darling. Using two non-professional actors John Carney tells a story about songwriters who meet on the streets of Dublin and connect in more ways than one. Or do they? Although ONCE is intimate and tender, it simultaneously maintains a distance from its characters. The two main characters in ONCE have no identifiable names. This adds to the feeling that the story being told has a universal nature. For example, the male of our species thinks that sex must be part of every equation even when it isn't or shouldn't be; the female has her eyes on the bigger picture.

The guy (Glen Hansard) misses his former girlfriend who has moved to London; the girl (Markéta Irglová) has a mother and daughter with her in Dublin but her husband is still in the Czech Republic. She sells roses on the street and cleans houses; he repairs vacuum cleaners at his father's business. After they meet the first go to his house where he lives with his widowed father; next they go to her house where the guy is invited by the girl's mother to stay for dinner. They discuss music and the girl invites the boy to a music store that allows her to play pianos in their showroom. Soon they are joined together in song. Picking up musicians off the street they quickly form a band and cut a demo CD in a grueling session that lasts from Friday to Monday.

The story is engaging and the characters, likable. The film is slightly hampered by a lack of acting experience - there are simply too many blank stares at moments when emotions need to register. Some of the songs are lovely but they suffer from sameness both lyrically and musically. Proclamations that ONCE is the new direction of movie musicals are absurd. ONCE is a lovely little drama about making music and how people integrate serendipitous events that shape their lives into their art. 3.5 cats"

Michael says: "There’s always a danger when a film receives nearly universal critical acclaim (97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) that it will not live up to the hype and will fall flat of the raves you’ve been reading. As the first couple of scenes of ONCE played out, I feared this would be the case. The film kicks off on a young man busking on the streets of Ireland. His raspy tenor was filled with the drama and emotion of an early U2 song and the earnestness had trouble aligning with the verite style in which ONCE is shot. When the other half of the starring duo is introduced, a young Czech immigrant with a matter-of-fact demeanor and a teasing quality in her introductory scene, my interest was piqued. Then, about ten minutes later, when the two sing their first song together in the back of a musical instrument shop, everything clicked and the movie soared. In those moments, the evocative power of music joined with some lovely camerawork to draw me thoroughly into this simple, poignant film.

"ONCE tells the story of a single moment in time when two strangers meet, connect, create something beautiful, then return to their lives. Director John Carney combines some traditional musical devices with a hyper realistic style to tell a deceptively simple story with an honest emotional arc that is thoroughly satisfying. He effectively uses non-professional actors, including Glen Hansard, and Irish singer/songwriter from a band called The Frames, and Markéta Irglová, a classically trained Czech pianist as the leads. The threads in the story include the creative process, a look at the music industry, and a story of two people who form a deep connection. He touches on the immigrant experience and the responsibility of family. There’s a lot going on in this 85 minute film and the music frankly soars. There are a couple of sublime moments in ONCE including the afore-mentioned scene in the music shop, and the gorgeously bittersweet closing scene, and while there could have been a couple more songs to avoid the repeat of another, ONCE is a film for everyone to see. 4 ½ cats."