once“We set out to make a good film.” The other night, Backstage West held a screening of the indie Once on the 20th Century Fox Studio lot followed by a question and answer period with the film’s stars. Once is a contemporary musical set in Ireland which explores the relationship and, ultimately, enrichment of two individuals, a guy and girl (Their names are never given.), through their musical talents. He is a street performer, earning the pithy change from those who pass by, and she is a single mother whose love of the piano perfectly complements the Guy’s passion for music.

The film itself is a cinematic treat. With a running time of less than 90 minutes, Once absorbs you into the relationship that these two begin to form using the films songs as both narratives of and insights into each characters’ lives. Interestingly enough, the actors portraying Guy and Girl (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) are primarily musicians, yet their foray into acting never comes off as amateurish, but earnest and authentic. In fact, it’s hard to think of any other actors who could have pulled off the roles with such sincerity. The music is the center of the film, though don’t expect any huge Broadway numbers. Instead, the heart comes from the simple, acoustic-sounding incorporation of the songs into the film’s story. No tongue in cheek references or gazes at the camera are given, but the simple thought and belief that these two conduct their lives with music as their passion, breaking into their own lively or emotional song from time to time.

The question and answer period with Hansard and Irglova that followed went beyond a typical Q&A, it included a performance by the two musicians. As was discussed, ironically, Once was initially passed over for a screening at Sundance, only to have the film seen by a Sundance representative at a local Irish theater, who then opened up the proper channels to allow the film entry. Additionally, with Cillian Murphy already set to star, Hansard and Irglova were only selected to do the film’s music, until Murphy backed out, and director John Carney asked them to star instead. While other tidbits, such as budget and filming, were discussed, it was noticeable that Irglova is a star in the making, ready for even more success when the time comes. Letting Hansard answer the bulk of questions, Irglova seemed timid though asserted her own opinion and commentary when appropriate. However, her overall demeanor suggested she knew how lucky things turned out for both she and the film, and her reluctance to answer some questions points to simple inexperience, as if she might jinx the success. As stated earlier, Hansard and Irglova gave a small performance of the film’s two main songs and it was inspiring to hear these two perform. Even more inspiring was that having just watched the film, there was little discrepancy between their live performance and the one they had filmed years ago, again, attesting to the overall feeling of earnestness. The chemistry between the two translated to the stage as well, both of them captivating the audience, earning a standing ovation.

In retrospect, Once probably benefited from its initial misfortunes in that if it had everything worked out initially, audiences would have been denied the chemistry and enthusiasm between Hansard and Irglova. On the same token, a feeling of ownership persists throughout the movie, since all involved set out to make a “good film,” as Hansard stated, whether or not it was to be distributed. In fact, with no major studio influence, no bankable stars, and just a director, his crew, good music, and heartfelt performances, you wish Once would come twice.

Preorder Once now: It will be released December 18, 2007, but you can buy it now for an awesome Christmas gift. Or buy the CD now and listen for “Falling Slowly.”