“Once” stands apart as one of the most successful marriages of music and narrative in recent memory. The 2006 film works as a musical, because the music is worked into the story so well. In fact, it is the story.
The actors in the film are musicians, so when they break into song, they don’t need to break out of character to do so. Glen Hansard, leader of Irish band the Frames, and then-unknown Czech Republic-born singer and songwriter Markéta Irglová meet and fall in love in the film, and the music they make together is an artistic manifestation of that love. “Once” is a small, specific and tender story that tapped into something universal, without having to beat the viewer/listener over the head. The film is understated and subtle, and the music – sparse, mostly acoustic in nature, incredibly tender and evocative – was and is at once yearning-infused and laid-back.
These songs – beautiful folk-pop pieces like “Falling Slowly,” “Trying To Pull Myself Away” and the title tune – needed no choreographed dance moves, no fancy gimmicks, no elaborate sets in order to get their achingly human point across on film. These are poignant folk songs strengthened by indelible melodies and infused with a deep sense of yearning. Which might explain the success of the movie soundtrack, which has had a life of its own, independent of the film.
As a story of two people who have forsaken the straight (and usually much more materially comfortable) life to follow where the muse leads, “Once” doesn’t need any bombast to get its point across. The music tells the story just fine.
– Jeff Miers