' Cinema Romantico: Once (Again)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Once (Again)

(Prior to this, allow me to say anyone who has yet to see the film "Once" and desires to see it without any spoilers - even though this movie ignores typical "twists" - or the raving diatribe of one uber-passionate lunatic ruining his or her viewing experience because it's been, as they say, built up too much should avoid the following words at all costs. I repeat, at all costs. But I have to write it. I just have to.)

"We all have movies.....that transcend ordinary categories of good and bad, and penetrate straight to our hearts. My own short list would include 'La Dolce Vita', 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'The Third Man'. These are movies that represent what I yearned for at one time in my life, and to see them again is like listening to a song that was popular the first summer you were in love." - Roger Ebert

The sort of list of which the esteemed Mr. Ebert speaks is one we all keep. And I'm not just talking about your usual list of favorite movies because those lists are humongous. No, I'm talking about - as Mr. Ebert was - the movies that speak specifically to your heart. My short list? "Last of the Mohicans". "Million Dollar Baby". "The Myth of Fingerprints". "Before Sunrise". These are movies of which I'll never tire. I'll never have a period where I don't want to watch them because I know that to watch them will forever and ever transport me to a place where the world is right and makes sense and I feel inspired and how I want to feel all the time.

They don't happen often. I've wondered before how a person knows when he or she has seen not simply a great movie, or a favorite movie, but a masterpiece? A true masterpiece? And I decided - and I agree now - the answer to be simple. You know when you know. And I know now as I knew then.

I've now seen the Irish musical opus "Once" three times. The first time I saw it just to, you know, see it. The second time I saw it to make sure that what I'd seen the first time was real. The third time I saw it to confirm what I'd suspected the first and second time. And so now I will say it - cool, calm, collected, and in full control of capacities.

"Once" is the best movie I've seen since "Million Dollar Baby". It's a true masterpiece, a film with no hidden agenda based entirely on its characters and their actions that moves you to the very depth of your being. But that's too simple (or least not bombastic enough for my taste). It's a movie that has affirmed my faith. In what, precisely? Anything, everything. It's a movie that has stirred my soul way deep down in that part of my soul most people don't ever glimpse. It's a film that has somehow and some way entered my life at a point when I needed it the most.

The two main characters - played wonderfully and warmly by real life singer/songwriters Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - are never named during the film and yet they feel more real than just about any other movie character I've ever encountered. I know them. They live with passion and hope while co-existing with fear and doubt and a sense they are without choice.

The opening scene between the two contains no chit-chat. They speak intimately from the get-go. He is playing a song on the street and he wants to know what woman he wrote it for and where she is. People may claim no one would ask such a question so soon in real life. They may say what happens in "Once" is a Meet Cute. I say horse manewer. Those people are out there and I have met them. I don't want to deal with people who have nothing to offer outside pointless pleasantries and queries of "what do you do?" or "where do you work?" Forget all that crap. The very day after these two have met she chooses to confide in him the horror of what happened to her father.

And it's that second day she takes him to the piano store (another reviewer called her a "pianist without a piano") where they play one of his songs together and the camera drifts back and forth between them as they steal looks of one another (not unlike the record booth sequence in "Before Sunrise") and then - then! - there's a shot where the camera finally stays still and includes both of them in the frame. It builds to this and it's right there the connection is made. And then we follow up this scene with a shot, as the song we've heard them singing concludes, of the duo walking back the way they came, her dragging her vaccum (he works in a vaccum cleaner repair shop, you see) behind her.

This shot is too perfect for any sapless Prigge metaphor.

Hansard's character is dedicated to music but seems confused as to where to go with it. He works his regular job and plays music on the street for miniscule change, though that's clearly not the reason he does it. The second time we see him he's playing a song he wrote all by himself and you can see he's simply playing for himself. He doesn't necessarily require the admiration of others for the art he's created. It's where he goes to make sense of, well, everything. He can only open up through his music and because of that there's a twinge of sadness surrounding him.

Irglova's character is an earnest young woman who also is surrounded by sadness. This is someone with a full life on her plate. She works a variety of crummy jobs to put proverbial food on the table. She has a daughter. Her mother lives with them. Her husband (marriage came when she was pregnant) is back in the Czech Republic and it's clear she's not that enamored with him. Yet, there's still a brightness there. A refusal to let life's banality beat her down. Look at the way she treats the people in her apartment building or how she takes a handful of change from her daughter's piggy bank only after promising to pay it back.

There comes a point when she and Hansard are sitting at a piano in a recording studio late at night and he has already announced his intention to move to London and he asks her to come with and they can make an album together and "no one will ever find us" and you can see the eagerness dancing in their eyes. Then she says, "Can I bring my mother?" It's the reality you want to believe is out there and the reality that is out there. It will break your heart into a thousand pieces.

But it's this connection that can keep these two going. Will they meet again? Not the point, my friends. The movie has the balls to forgo sex and any mentions of love. They don't even kiss. A peck on the cheek is all we get. Yet, they experience the deepest connection possible for two human beings. However brief, this is a relationship that will last a lifetime. They understand each other. In fact, they understand each other so well they both know - without having to vocalize it - that he has to leave and she has to try and make it work with her husband. But you just know for years and years to come, when things get rough they will take time out and, maybe, flash back to that triumphant moment in the recording studio.

Can movies change lives? Why are you asking such a silly question? Of course, they can. And I think the characters of "Once" understand that, too.

"Last of the Mohicans" made me realize what a movie - and art as a whole - is capable of being. "Before Sunrise" made me realize that I was a hopeless romantic, and I was glad to be one, and I always want to be one even if it does me more harm than good. "The Myth of Fingerprints" made me realize feeling lost and confused and angry is okay and that you can exist with it and learn from it. "Million Dollar Baby" made me realize I still believe wholly in the power of cinema and that no matter what happens I will always be a writer.

Currently, I'm in the midst of a substantial freak-out as I quickly approach The Age We Will Not Mention. I freak out every time I have a birthday so you can imagine how this freak-out has been taken up a few notches. My weekdays drag on and on while my weekends go by in a blip. My money goes.....well, who knows? As I watched "Knocked Up" a couple weeks back there is a scene where the main girl picks up a bank statement belonging to the main guy, the guy who's going to be the father of her baby, and the look of terror that overwhelms her face as she sees his balance in turn terrified me. Why? Because if a girl looked at my bank statement she would have the exact same reaction. Should that be the case? Should I be past the point of blowing my cash on a CD I've never heard of solely because it has a cool title?

I feel my life getting more routine, more mundane, and if it's that the way I feel now I can only imagine (fear?) that it's going to be more routine and mundane by the time I reach The Other Age We Will Not Mention. Garrison Keillor once said something to the effect of how people should have as many regrets as possible before turning The Age We Will Not Mention. And I wonder if I've had enough regrets? Don't get me wrong, I've had a lot of 'em, but should I have had more? Should they have been bigger regrets? Can I still embrace my regrets as much after this next birthday? When does "throwing all caution to the wind" become "idiocy"?

But then, all of a sudden, here's "Once" to remind me that life - despite all the mononity and bullshit - can still be magical and that on any given day absolutely anything can happen.

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