We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – Once

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…

We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film



(John Carney, 2006)

‘… flows along beautifully with the supporting lyrical framework…’

Juls Nicholl-Stimpson

Once enthusiastically Irish, yet culturally diverse from start to finish; a lyrical rom-com far removed from Hollywood and its invariable conclusive endings. Once leaves us to make up our own minds about the futures of the two nameless central characters.

A naturalistic drama, it’s dry Irish sarcastic humour is slightly stereotypical, borderline cliché but well conveyed none the less; from the typical junkie to our nameless busker just looking to make a crust. The two central characters – known only as guy (Glen Hansard) and girl (Markéta Irglová), their fortuitous meeting is ordinary; set on busy Grafton Street, it remains unforced, un-manipulated, completely true to life. As she wanders by she stops to listen to him sing. Engaging ‘guy’ in conversation she finds out he works in a small hoover repair shop by day and asks him to have a look at hers. Sure enough the next day along she comes pulling the hoover comically behind her as if walking a dog! The film showcases Glen Hansards spectacular vocals as his character Guy journeys with the help of the unnamed Girl to assemble a demo tape for his move to London. Both out of long term relationships, both are searching for an answer relating to their respective ex’s becoming an outlet for each other and at times the attraction between them is tense.

Let’s make sweet music together

Though there are natural aspects to this film, the story is fictitious and there are the elements of the unnatural such as the unnamed girl singing whilst walking through the street donned in pyjamas and sheep slippers in the middle of the night untargeted by any of the kids on the inner city street. Also the scene in the bank manager’s office was completely unrealistic though humorous; I don’t think you would hear of any bank manager whipping out his guitar for a quick singsong mid-meeting just to show his enthusiasm or support for their recording venture.

Not only has John Carney’s Once been nominated and won an Oscar® but it has also won best foreign film at the Independent Spirit awards. Incredibly filmed and on a budget of €130,000, we have to love this musical comic love story which goes above and beyond to convey unspoken messages through the lyrics and fleeting looks. This is a perfect example of minimalistic dialogue; less is definitely more. The film overall, flows along beautifully with the supporting lyrical framework. For me this is an impressive example of Irish film, not your usual rom-com and definitely one to watch if you like musicals.

Juls Nicholl-Stimpson



Galway Film Fleadh 2012 Cinema Review: The Rafters

DIR: John Carney • WRI: John Carney • PRO: Macdara Kelleher, Martina Niland  • DOP: P.J. Dillon • ED: Nathan Nugent • Cast: Marcella Plunkett, Killian Scott, Sean Donegan, Maire O’Neill, Des Nealon.

I can honestly say I was really looking forward to seeing what The Factory did with The Rafters and how Carney would transition as a director. But sadly, I was a little disappointed. Carney told such a beautiful story with Once, even managing an Oscar® nomination and then a win! Once was such an imaginative love story about a busker and an immigrant in Dublin. The choice of music for the film was complete perfection even The Academy agreed. I didn’t think it unrealistic to hold my expectations high. I don’t want to slate the movie because  a lot of time and effort went into making the film but I really think Carney missed a nice opportunity to return to the supernatural world.

A young woman Rose (Marcella Plunkett) is consumed by her past that consistently haunts her every thought making it difficult for her to move on and leave the past behind her. She decides to return to the place where all the dark memories have stemmed from, making her way to a guest-house on the Aran Islands. Along the way she acquires two admirers in the form of American backpackers (Killian Scott, Sean Donegan). All three arrive at the house and are shown to separate rooms. Later they hear what sounds like footsteps and furniture moving above their heads where only the attic lies. An eerie presence looms throughout the house which the boys quickly set aside as they fix their attentions on Rose. Either from boredom, out of callousness or simply due to the lack of women in their age range on the island they decide to hedge their bets to see which one of them can bed the sleep deprived Rose. Each of the boys take turns to woo their unsuspecting plaything while she falls deeper into her own dreamlike world. However, this is more than just a competition between men but also a task in jealously, as there’s slight undertones to suggest that the backpackers are more then just friends!

The film was described as a supernatural drama with nightmarish images and it might have made for a nice short film. The Rafters seems to want to say something that is lost in scenes unrelated to the movie that should have ended up on the cutting room floor. All that being said it looked beautiful and if nothing else it’s a great campaign for Tourism Ireland. The Aran Islands look amazing, capturing an ancient, rural and magical Ireland.  The strong lacework of ancient stone walls, wild plants and pallet of grays, blues and greens all manage to create a sense of tone. There is one beautiful shot as Rose looks out over the cliff face as a furious ocean engulfs the limestone rock but sadly the poor story line lets the film down.

Lynn Larkin


‘The Swell Season’ with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of ‘Once’ to open in US Cinemas in October

(Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard in The Swell Season)

Filmmaker Niall McKay talks to the makers of the new documentary that follows Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova after their Oscar® win.

‘The thing about Once is that it won’t happen twice,’ the film’s producer David Collins is reportedly fond of saying. A new documentary about Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová following their Oscar® win contradicts that. Beautifully filmed, emotional and well crafted, The Swell Season is one of the big hits of the Tribeca Film Festival.

With Once, director John Carney had both the wit and the good luck to capture Hansard and Irglová falling in love. The Swell Season’s New York-based directors, Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, and Carlo Mirabella-Davis captured the couple falling out of love. Filmed during the couple’s world tour from 2007–2009 the film also features footage form their concerts. Certainly, lesser filmmakers would have missed the magic but credit is also due to Hansard and Irglová who bare all (in one skinny dipping scene – quite literally) and allowed the camera to capture some of their most intimate moments. Hansard’s parents also had a part in the film giving it a charm and intimacy rarely seen in a music documentary.

Niall McKay sat down with the film’s co-director and editor, Nick August-Perna, and co-director and producer Carlo Mirabella-Davis.

Niall: So let’s start with the genesis of the project.

Carlo: I was teaching film class at the New York Film Academy and Glen was one of my students. One day he was telling me about this strange odyssey that he and Markéta were about to embark on. We thought that it might make a good documentary, so we asked them. They were into the idea, and they let us come along for the first tour, which turned into three years of following them all over the world and shooting their songs and their lives.

Niall: How did Glen come to take a film class?

Carlo: Glen loves films, he’s a big fan of Werner Herzog. Fitzcarraldo is one of his favourite movies. He just thought that it would be fun to take a film class and try to direct some short films. He’s a really good director. He directed a couple of great short films in New York.

Niall: How did you get them to reveal so much of themselves on camera?

Nick: To be honest I don’t think any of us had a clear idea of what we were embarking on. Our process was very hands off. There was no manipulation. There was no changing the circumstances to create anything that would be good for the camera. We had to have a lot of patience. Glen and Markéta were very interesting to watch. They wear their hearts on their sleeve, they’re very emotional people, they’re very thoughtful people. Honestly, you turn the camera on them and you’re going to have a very interesting movie

Carlo: We spent a lot of time off screen just getting to know them. We became friends. But it took at least a year for them to get comfortable with the camera. Eventually they forgot the camera was there. Nick was doing sound, Chris was on the camera, and I had two LED lights in my hands.

Niall: The core scene in the film is an argument they have in a Czech cafe. Did you know at that time that you were capturing their break-up?

Nick: Their real-life love story is very intriguing for a lot of reasons. But we did not want to go into the film with any preconceived idea about this being a love story. However, if you’re asking did we capture the moment when they broke up, that’s for the viewer to decide. There are some very personal moments in the film that anybody who has been in a relationship or been in love can relate to. There’s all the exhilaration of being in love and there’s all of the sadness of falling out of love.

The scene in the Czech coffee shop, for example, was a scene that we had earned. We got to the point where they had great trust in us and we were able to disappear into this Czech crowd at a cafe. It’s a scene that fully exemplifies the tip of film we were trying to make where the style comes together with the content.

Carlo: A lot of people have said that you forget you are watching a documentary in that moment, and that’s the best thing anyone can say to you as a documentary filmmaker.

Nick: Sometimes, you just get lucky and you have the camera on when those moments happen.

Niall: Where there any other happy accidents?

Carlo: One day we followed them into Glen’s room and Markéta began cutting Glen’s hair and it became this incredible scene that was so intimate and so interesting. And then at the very end of it, Glen picked up the guitar and started singing.

Niall: What camera did you shoot on?

Nick: Our cinematographer, Chris made some great choices in the beginning to use cinema lenses with an adapter on a Panasonic HVX. There’s no documentary-style zooming. It’s beautiful steady camera work.

Niall: The film is also in black and white. Actually, I thought you shot on 16mm.

Carlo: Well, that’s what we wanted. Once had a documentary feel, and we wanted our documentary to have a cinematic or narrative feel like Pennebaker’s great film about Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back.

Nick: yes, but also we decided that we wanted to be very close. There are wide shots of course, but we liked the intimate feeling of being very close and letting Glen come in and out of frame.

Niall: What about sound?

Nick: We used a boom, because we wanted it to sound like a feature film. I discovered, this Schoeps mic, it was just unbelievable. It’s like a surgeon’s knife.

Niall: How did you record concerts?

Nick: We took a tap off the sound board into the mixer which was plugged right into the camera. Sometimes I boomed also, because if you just go through the board it can have an empty or vacuous sound. Then we mixed it down to the camera. It worked. We were able to do a 5.1 surround sound mix.

Niall: So about the edit – how many hours of footage did you shoot?

Nick: We had 200 hours but to be honest there were two scenes that I edited right away and that really got me pumped. One was the hair-cutting scene, and the other was a scene that I cut with Glen and his father and mother at his home in Ireland.

That gave us a compass. It was a personal film. And then we used a series of bulletin boards and scene cards and notes and transcripts and passed them back and forth. It was probably four months before we found the film, it was gruelling at first.

Niall: And what did you decide was the arc?

Nick: The relationship, the tour and Glen’s family was the heart to it.

Carlo: There’s also the limelight and the nature of ambition and the double-edged sword of success.

Niall: Who financed the film?

Carlo: It was a shared endeavour between us and the record label.

Carlo: But this was a really low-budget film, we were living on the tour bus with the crew. There were no hotel rooms and when we were in Ireland, Glen put us up in his house. We were sleeping on the floor, so it was very much an intimate and by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of shoot.

Niall: You weren’t tempted to go to the Irish Film Board for money?

Carlo: Well, we were. They were wonderful but it was just a case of timing and we were just too busy making the movie to sit down and write to people and apply for money.

Niall: Well, thanks very much, and I wish you all the best with the film.

The Swell Season opens in US cinemas on October 7th 2011  in LA and October 21st in New York.

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland #138 Autumn 2011.

Fore more details on its US release visit http://www.7thart.com/Home



Issue 115 – Once: From the Heart


Grafton Street. Night. In a long shot from across the street we see a busker strumming a guitar in a gap between shops. The angle is reminiscent of a tourist video – a casual passer-by who happens upon this interesting musical specimen and chooses to pause for a moment. At this hour of the day the singer is without an audience, and seems to be performing largely for his own benefit in the darkened thoroughfare. As his song progresses he becomes more passionate, his fingers assaulting his guitar while his voice is pushed to its limits. As he reaches the song’s zenith the camera moves across the street, catching him in a mid-to-close shot that transforms the accidental style into something more akin to a rock video. As he finishes we become aware that he has an audience: one person: a young woman.

The woman asks him why she has never heard this song before; he tells her that he has written it himself. He only plays his original songs at night, he explains, because during the day people want to hear something familiar. After all, this is how he makes his living. While he’s happy that people like her appreciate his music, people like her can only afford to throw ten cent into his guitar case.

Scenes from modern Bohemia
The first meeting between the two nameless protagonists in John Carney’s Once recalls the initial encounter between Rodolfo and Mimì in La Bohème. The main characters in Puccini’s opera are an impoverished young poet and a consumptive seamstress who inhabit a realm of beauty that lies beyond their immediate, penurious circumstances. Rodolfo explains his trade in the famous lines: ‘Who am I? I’m a poet/My business? Writing/How do I live? I live.’ While the denizens of Carney’s modern bohemia are musicians, rather than the assorted artists of the Latin Quarter, Once operates within a similar tradition. The busker eeks out a living between playing music on the streets and working in his father’s hoover repair shop, while his female companion sells flowers on the street and works as a domestic cleaner. But both have talents that only the other seems to appreciate.

If Bohemian Paris was a reaction to the years of bourgeois affluence culminating in the Second Empire, the Bohemian circle explored by Once represents a cultural byproduct of Ireland’s boom years in the 1990s. Ireland’s Celtic Tiger years have been documented, temporarily at least, by a corpus of romcoms and thrillers. Once depicts the other side of the boom; there is no cosmopolitan glitz, but neither is there probing of a (by now well-prodded) ‘dark underbelly’. In a property-obsessed society, both protagonists live in unglamorous circumstances with one of their parents. No-one in the film (apart from Eamon the record producer) uses a mobile phone or drives a car; no-one drinks a cappuccino, eats parma ham or rockett, uses an iPod or goes online. There is a single scene in which Glen Hansard uses a laptop while writing a new song, but otherwise the trappings of the new disposable income that we are all supposed to be enjoying are noticeable by their absence. Characters travel by bus and use public phones as if the Celtic Tiger never happened.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 115.