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'Once': France says 'encore!'

Dec 2

Written by:
Sunday, December 02, 2007  RssIcon

John Carney's 'Once' was released in France on 14 November - and it has enjoyed reasonable success.

The French poster for 'Once'With only 54 copies distributed (compared to 364 for 'American Gangster', released on the same day), the low-budget Irish film has attracted an impressive 47,343 cinema-goers in its first two weeks, putting it at no. 20 in the French box office chart (American Gangster, third in the table behind Saw IV, has almost 730,000 punters).

French reviewers have been quite positive too. The general consensus is along the lines of 'the songs and the charm make up for its faults'. Widely-read cultural weekly Telerama's opinion was typical: its review emphasised the key role of the 'glum rock' songs in the storytelling, and praised Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova for their performances.

Your blogger saw 'Once' in a Paris arthouse cinema this weekend. The film certainly has its charms, most of all Hansard as the likeable hero (we were about to write 'likeable busker', but that'd be going too far with the suspension of disbelief). But Irglova's part was seriously underwritten; her lines were not so much dialogue as stage directions ("I have to go now" umpteen times) and plot markers, with no sense of her character having any emotional depth or development. Perhaps Carney, maker of the brilliant 'Bachelors Walk', just can't write a convincing female role; there was Marcella Plunkett being the dreamy two-dimensional love interest, just like in the TV series.

And the songs aren't really good enough to win over Frames-doubters the way they do in the film; bland, generic love-and-angst lyrics delivered in Hansard's trademark quiet-to-loud style. But his melodies - especially 'Falling Slowly' - are strong and memorable, like the best of his songs. The more adventurous James Blunt fan may be swayed by them, though we know that's damning Hansard and Irglova with faint praise.

We were curious as to how French people would react to 'Once'. Street buskers aren't so common here - most musical begging is done on the metro (though there's a regular pitch at one corner of Place Saint Michel). And would not knowing The Frames be a help or a hindrance?

Well, we gained one telling insight thanks to a certain French audience reaction. Early in the film, just before the girl appears, the guy is singing 'Say It To Me Now'. At the moment that Hansard launches into the song's histrionic section, some people in the cinema started laughing - they clearly found him ridiculous and thought it was meant as a joke. But the laughter died away when the French viewers realised that the busker's OTT performance was to be taken seriously.

Apart from the cultural shock of experiencing a real Grafton Street busker (though not singing 'Hallelujah'), here are some other Things That French People Learned About Dublin Thanks To 'Once':

  • No one in Dublin (except rich studio engineers) owns a mobile phone. All calls must be made from public phones just off Grafton Street.
  • It's normal to go to the shop at night in your pyjamas. You won't be mugged or arrested.
  • Dublin thieves are perfectly nice once you've caught them and shown them your compassionate side. But watch out for that second door out of HMV!
  • Young Dubliners don't go to the pub; they organise sing-songs at home where everyone eats plain spaghetti and listens to someone's ma* singing come-all-ye rebel ballads.
  • Immigrants to Dublin have no worries except for neighbours barging in to watch 'Fair City'.
  • It doesn't rain in Dublin.

As for your blogger, three years out of Dublin, it seems that Mountjoy Square is going to become the new Stoneybatter. But are there more buskers there now because of 'Once'? We think we'll be staying in Paris a while longer...

(*Mrs Hansard, we believe)

Location: Blogs Parent Separator French Letter

4 comment(s) so far...

Re: 'Once': France says 'encore!'

Aidan, excellent stuff. The movie was reasonably well reviewed here in Oz and I agree with many of your criticisms of the movie. The performance of Irglova was, for me, the highlight of the movie - she was effervescent, sparky, great on camera I thought. Her limited English came across as really sweet. I think she has talent. Hansard was stiff and awkward in comparison. Not a great movie though. I was disappointed.

By Stephen on   Sunday, December 02, 2007

Re: 'Once': France says 'encore!'

I haven't seen Once, but your review suggests its pretty much as I would have expected. Much more promising looking is Garage, which is showing at MK2 this Friday.

I say it looks promising, but only if you've seen the English language trailer. Take a look at it here and then the French trailer here (under videos). Its amazing what some editing and a change of music can do.

By slydawn on   Sunday, December 02, 2007

Re: 'Once': France says 'encore!'

Stephen / Slydawn, I should have added that expats who are nostalgic for Dublin will like 'Once', don't know if that includes you ;D 'Garage' sounds a bit too bleak from what I've read about it, but I might give it a look anyway...

By aidan on   Monday, December 03, 2007

Re: 'Once': France says 'encore!'

Great post.
Mind if I link to you...

By Mr T on   Saturday, February 02, 2008

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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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