Screenwriter: John Carney
UK Release date: 19 October
Agreeing that Once is Montage's film of the festival, Robert Duffin and Emma J Lennox discuss just why the unassuming 'microbudget' Irish film is so appealing.
Quick synopsis: A heart broken Dublin busker, Glen Hansard, (simply named guy) meets Czech immigrant Marketa Irglova (girl) and over the course of a few days develop music, understanding and an unforgettable friendship.
Robert says: I was looking forward to seeing Once because it'd had good word of mouth and I was interested to see something different done with the musical genre. When watching, I was completely sold from Glen's first song; he was obviously the most talented busker in the world! I think the style, which some have criticised, really works in terms of bringing you into the story. It feels very 'real'. What made it stand apart from everything else at the festival was that I was able to forgot my surroundings. For two hours I was with those characters, instead of being at the EIFF which is an odd environment to watch films in. You're almost hyper-critical, and your expectations are at ridiculously high levels.
Emma says: I don't see it as a 'musical' at all, the director (John Carney) has called it a 'visual album,' which is more of an accurate term. In musicals the songs usually reflect the emotions of the characters and relates to the narrative, but Once doesn't do literal translations because the songs are devoted to off screen lovers. Glen and Marketa's relationship is conversely built upon their broken hearts, and enforced through this music. I think this gives it the emotional impact. In comparison I think Control lacked this complexity by trying to represent the songs in the story, which of course didn't live up to Joy Division's soundtrack.
Robert says: Exactly, the literal translation of 'Love Will Tear us Apart' lacked any emotional punch. Compare that to the first song Glen and Marketa sing together, 'Falling Slowly', and you see what can be achieved. It's when they are singing about 'others' that you understand how they feel about each other.
Emma says: I wonder if the kind of music will put people off, it's a very gentle, folksy style, extremely well performed, but maybe too saccharine for the death rockers out there? Having said that I have quite a left field taste and cinematic love songs usually send me into an ear-clawing depression, so I would have been first to run out the auditorium if I detected too much Tate and Lyle.
Robert says: I don't think Once will work for everyone. The singer-songwriter vibe is definitely something that will irritate people if they are particularly adverse to the likes of Damien Rice. The central attraction in the film comes from the notion that artists are inherently misunderstood individuals who have to fight for their original voice which is not really an everyman plight all people can get behind. For me, that's really beautiful but some people might find it a bit drippy. I think it's the performances that sell it.
Emma says: The cast are exceptional, with hardly any acting experience between them Glen and Marketa give very natural and subtle performances. I think this is because of their close relationship with Carney for whom the story is semi- autobiographical. It strikes as being a personal project and the long lens shots, and on location filming adds to the effect of glimpsing something special from afar. Something I've realised over the festival is that I enjoy documentaries that are 'artistic' and fiction films that seem 'real'. Once isn't a conventional love story, which makes it unpredictable and refreshing.
Robert says: I think there are a few plot conventions shoe horned in to allow the narrative to progress but I didn’t let it bother me, I was over the moon when I walked out of the screening because of the emotional truth. I love the scene where Glen is giving advice to the Thin Lizzy cover band they hire to back them, and when he gets to Marketa he simply says: “you know what you’re doing.” In the context of the film, it’s as good as saying “I Love You.” The very next day I downloaded the soundtrack, but I think something is lost in just listening to the songs. The energy of the tracks has diminished in their recording but it’s a credit to the film that the creative process here is so well presented. While Carney and Glen being in The Frames together has led some people to call this a nepotistic vanity project, I think only a musician can tell musical stories.
Emma says: I think music is a very 'pure' medium because it affects on a subjective level whereas film, with its constructed story, is largely an intellectual experience. Somehow Carney manages to tap into that quality which gets you blubbing superlatives such as 'overwhelmingly heartbreaking!'. I was caught out during the recording session scene because it seemed like such an unromantic setting. Yet in the dry and straightforward environment of cables and mics, the band produce the most invigorating song yet 'When Your Mind's Made Up' and I got goosebumps. Of course if you don't connect musically then you'll wonder what all the fuss is about. I suspect it may be a 'love or hate' affair, however I'm unashamed to call it my festival highlight.
Robert says: It's my personal Best of the Fest and definitely a contender for film of the year. While it's easily a divisive film, I would still recommend people see it; the chance of feeling how I did after watching it is worth the risk. Well Emma, to quote to adorable Marketa, "thanks for the hoover, food and songs."
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