The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


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)

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