“The songs are so amazing in this film, I would have been an idiot to mess it up,” says writer-director John Carney of his new film, “Once.”
Carney’s no idiot. “Once,” an emotionally charged movie about two unlikely musical soulmates, aptly marries the random wanderings of fate with the actualization of one’s lifelong dreams. The end result plays like a visual album, as deep as it is moving, and whose actors, Glen Hansard (“The Commitments”) and newcomer Markéta Irglová, create some of most moving moments to hit the screen this year.
In a story that chronicles the surprising friendship between a down-on-his-luck Dublin street musician (Hansard) and a worker bee/Czech import (Irglová), “Once” captures the gifts found in chance encounters and how those encounters can have the ability to transform one’s life — if you let them.
“It’s like a movie made in the bedroom,” Hansard says. “The two characters are plain, there wasn’t any trouble in their background and it’s a multicultural portrait of Ireland. I read it and I thought, ‘Thank God — at last a film in Dublin where it isn’t the IRA guy, or the crazy drunkard.’”
To that end, Carney, as filmmaker, purposely set out to use the moving song and lyrics Hansard created as one of the film’s headliners alongside Irglová, who acts as Hansard’s muse here.
“I consciously wanted to make a film where the songs were stitched into the drama and the dialogue, and the film didn’t pause,” Carney says. “The songs came naturally and flowed out of the dialogue and then back into it.”
Like mastering a good song well, Carney had practice learning the art of storytelling when he worked on several successful Irish television series, where, he says, he “really got an insight to what audiences expect.”
Hansard learned the same thing, through his music career. After generating buzz in the ’90s hit “The Commitments,” he formed the successful band The Frames. He recently met Irglová and in addition to starring — and singing — together in “Once,” the two recorded an album.
Collectively, all parties agree that the film’s deeper messages provoke thought, especially about the idea of relationships and the expectations most place on them.
“It’s enough of a responsibility to keep yourself satisfied, ” Irglová says, “but relying on somebody else to do it? I guess you can’t expect a relationship to remain this exciting, mad thing. It just doesn’t happen. One of the things about romantic love is that it will change.”
“It’s like a season,” Hansard adds. “Love comes around again. That’s the beauty of it. Summer comes back, deeper, with more roots. Some people are interested in the flowers and the beauty — the sticky bud — and other people are interested in the roots that have actually been struggling to grow. And it gets dirty down there and people say. ‘It’s work,’ but if you look at the tree, it’s all those things.”