The best thing about the little Irish film that could, Once, isn't Glen Hansard (singer of The Frames) and his delicately beat-up guitar with a voice to match. (That wouldn't be surprising, as anyone who read this earlier post could tell you.) It isn't the endearing handheld camera methods--all but dictated by a miniscule budget-- that helped make the movie this year's Sundance sleeper hit.
It's Marketa Irglova, a Czech 19-year-old whose haunting voice and old-world lyrical style are a tangible link to Ireland's past and future. The film is set early this decade, before the new economic boom that has folks there either excited or despondent.
I saw Once when the movie's sneak-preview tour bus (courtesy of North American distributors Fox Searchlight) stopped at the Roxy Theater in the Mission. Many folks were obviously there because the screening was free; such Philistines left after the film ended and Glen and Marketa began performing with just their voices and the aforementioned acoustic guitar. You know how, when a movie has really good music, those tunes stay in your head hours after the closing credits? Well, pair the already-mesmerizing songs penned by Glen and Marketa with an immediate live rendition, and that music will become part of your soul.
Even almost two weeks later, I can't stop humming the refrain for "Falling Slowly," and find myself going on Once's page on Fox Searchlight's website to listen to Marketa's star turn in "If You Want Me." She's got an old-world quality to her voice that I can't pin down; or maybe it's the old-fashioned elements in the songs she sings that brings out her haunting yet guileless tone.
And guileless she is. I was sorely disappointed to find out that she doesn't have her own albums out--just the Once soundtrack and the Swell Season CD she recorded with Glen. I talked with her briefly after the screening/concert, and she reiterated that after recording twice with Glen, sharing a Sundance audience win, and touring around the U.S. in a fancy bus provided by a Big Hollywood Studio, she really wants to... work in a cafe. She hasn't done so before, she explained.
And maybe that mix of humbleness, naivete, and earnestness is what really comes out when she sings.
(Note: Once, which had a broader opening over the Memorial Day weekend, continues to debut at various theaters nationwide.)