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Once: Every little bump

March 29, 2024

Eva Ahn

I love the sound of cassette tapes. I won’t pretend that I am extraordinarily unique—I definitely got into them because it was the trendy new thing, totally retro to walk around high school with a Walkman, listening to Queen on tape. But I’ve grown to genuinely love the sound of tape, to appreciate its imperfections. Walking around, just the simple bounce of your leg as you walk can totally disrupt the cassette’s sound. A lyric gets warped when you drop off the sidewalk, any motion of your thigh that’s too fast, too jaunty, will create a totally new sound. Every listen is different. You can have the same exact track, same song, same everything and listen to it once a day for a year—and still have a little something be different every time.

“Once” is a 2007 Irish movie directed by John Carney, following Guy and Girl. Yeah. Guy is an aspiring musician who spends his time busking on Grafton Street. Girl is a recent Czech immigrant in Dublin, selling roses on the street. Girl stumbles upon Guy playing a song at night, a love song. A breakup song. She asks if he still thinks about the girl he wrote that song about.

“Once” is a musical—on its own terms. They link up and head to a quaint music store. They sit next to each other on the piano bench, and they start making music together. And nothing else in the world matters. It’s a song about commitment, about affirmation of the truth about the tribulations of love. About needing your partner. The song is called “Falling Slowly,” which would go on to win the little indie film the Academy Award for Best Original Song. After this impromptu jam session, they become nearly inseparable, giving each other music sheets and having little musician hangouts. But they never add any labels to their relationship. The realization it’d be too complicated to put what they have into words hits Guy when Girl invites him over to her apartment to meet her young daughter and her mother. Girl explains her husband is back in the Czech Republic. As much as he frustrates her, she doesn’t want her little girl to grow up without a father. Much, much too complicated for Guy, who’s debating whether or not to follow his ex to London. Too much.

The movie isn’t set in some kind of fantasy Dublin. Watching it now, it actually almost feels like a mid-2000s period piece for the city. “Once” was shot on a tiny budget, and it shows. It’s clearly not a Hollywood production, with its zoomed-in shots in the middle of a bustling street and natural lighting that are on the verge of being too dark. And as you watch this Girl and Guy fall into each other, you feel that any kind of quality of perfection (perfect sound, smooth cinematography, sculpted movie star faces) may not make or break the movie. Especially when there’s just this intensity, this sincerity, in the music, the kind of sincerity that would make someone stop on the street and ask if you still think about that special someone.

When a movie looks and feels like “Once”, you can’t help but treasure that such a precious little thing was even possible in the first place. You don’t mind that it isn’t refined or shiny or pristine like everything else you’ve been presented with. There’s a pleasure in feeling every little bump, every little miraculous happening—that feel like it’ll happen only this once.


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