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Songs from the Sidewalk: Once
Reviewed by Darren Bevan
EVERYONE who’s been to see this low-budget, shot-on-handheld-in-next-to-no-time tale of a friendship between an unnamed busker and an immigrant girl has raved about it – and sadly I’m no different. I had been expecting very little and came out feeling like my entire world view has been changed from its usual skewed point of view, with songs in my heart and a silly grin on my face (something which anyone who knows me would say is a distinctly uncommon disposition for me).
The film begins with Glen Hansard’s busker strumming away on the streets of Dublin, facing the possibility of seeing his day’s takings robbed from under his nose by a teenager. However, his virtuous heart is already on his sleeve: when the boy steals the money, the busker pursues him and after catching him, relents and gives him some of the takings.
Back on the streets, the unnamed singer is accosted by an immigrant girl (played by newcomer Marketa Irglova) who is selling Big Issues. The guy lets it known busking is just a hobby, a chance for him to pursue his dream as a singer/ songwriter – but his real career is as a repairman for a hoover company run from a shop by his father. So the next day, the girl returns with a broken hoover, dragging it behind her like a sick puppy. From there the friendship blossoms, as the pair discover a mutual love for playing and writing songs together, and a shoulder to recover from the hurt they’re suffering – he a rejected soul tormented by a lost love; she, a woman separated from her husband who’s living abroad.
On paper, this sounds like the kind of low budget film which should be a disaster, but it’s no over-statement to say Once is one of the triumphs of 2007 – yes, it exploits every cliché you’d expect, but it pulls it off because of its naïve innocence, energy, great soundtrack, and affability of its leads.
It also has to be said the film’s music is one of the key reasons for its success: Glen Hansard’s a singer/songwriter whose band the Frames have toured with the likes of Bob Dyland, while Marketa Irglova’s piano playing and angelic voice are more than a perfect match for Hansard’s rougher edges.
If there is to be a criticism of this treat, it’s not disingenuous to say occasionally the repetition of one or two of the main songs grates – but it’s honestly a minor complaint. Once is easily one of the best films of 2007; a year which has been both bleak and bloated with disappointments. My advice is to seek it out and get yourself a festive glow before the Christmas commercialisation swamps you once again.
» John Carney | Ireland | 2006 | 85 min | Featuring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Senan Haugh, Danuse Ktrestova, Bill Hodnett. IN THEATRES DEC 6.