Sunday, 21 October 2007

Once Upon A Time At The Cinema

I forgot to add that we saw a rather brilliant film yesterday at the HL, Once. It sounded like an earnest, rather worthy piece that I'd ordinarily hate: a drama with a whole lot of music spliced in; heavily hyped by reviewers left, right and centre; lo-fi and cheap with lots of "soul"; et cetera. But I was completely blind-sided by it.

Nutshell synopsis: A depressed, 30-something musician is scraping a living repairing vacuum cleaners with his father, and busking on the streets of Dublin. During the day he plays crowd pleasing numbers that bring in the Euros, during the evening he plays songs he's written himself. One evening he meets a Czech woman who compliments him one of his self-penned songs. He finds out that she too is a musician, leading to them duetting in a music shop. He introduces her to more of his work, and she agrees to put lyrics to some of his music. Buoyed up by this success, they arrange a recording session in a local studio, and recruit some fellow street musicians. In the background, the two are gradually drawn to one another, but romantic history intervenes: he is still in love with an ex-girlfriend, she is married, though estranged, and has a child. Ultimately, they decide together to give their past loves second chances, and the man departs for London, both to find his lost love and to try to sell his music.

The above probably sounds awful, but this is an extremely romantic film, certainly up there with similar films like Before Sunrise / Sunset. The budding relationship between the two central characters is extremely well played and convincing. However, more importantly, the film's use of music is quite spectacular. It's not a classical musical where reality pauses while a song is sung. Here things are naturalistic (a "diegesis" according to the Wikipedia) and the songs flow from the narrative. This isn't forced at any point, and the writers have squeezed songs into the action extremely cleverly. And the songs are extremely good. Perhaps a bit ballady for my tastes, but I'm more forgiving when songs are used in service of a film. The high point is the song they record at the studio, "When Your Mind's Made Up", but the others don't disappoint either. Even the comedy songs that the man plays on the back of a bus to describe his failed relationship.

Anyway, I'm not usually one for romantic films, but every now and then one comes along, and this is certainly one of my favorites. It'll sound pretentious, but it's one of those films that refreshes my faith in cinema as a form. Capable of moving one without recourse to cheap sentimentality, et cetera ...

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