The school crosswalks of Madison County

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

You must have seen the surprisingly good movie “The Bridges of Madison County” back in 1995, the one based on the surprisingly sappy novel by Robert James Waller.
Well, I’ve just seen the Young Persons version of the same simple tale, ablaze with unrequited love and melancholy munchkins. And instead of properly calling it “The school crosswalks of Madison County,” this indy flick was named, for reasons unknown, “Once.”

‘Tis the tale of two young people who almost fall in love, written and directed by Irish filmmaker John Carney. He calls it a musical because it’s about an Irish street guitarist and a Czech immigrant pianist, but I found the shy and cautious relationship between two damaged young people to be just as interesting and even more complex than the soft rock songs they write and sing.

The guy is played by 37-year-old Glen Hansard, leader of “The Frames,” an Irish alt-rock band, and the girl (neither he nor she have regular names in the film) is Marketa Irglova, from Prague, who actually did cut an album with Hansard last year.

On a budget of only 150 thou, the film was shot documentary-style in some of the grubbier neighborhoods of Dublin, and follows the pair through their first week’s relationship, wherein they meet and eventually cut some demo records together. And they emote, of course, testing the possibility of something more than collaborating on some songs.

Not much else happens, physically anyway.

Their feelings for and about one another, tracked by rather uncertain camera work, are revealed in the melancholy songs that are scattered like crushed daisies throughout the story. It’s quite touching.

Hansard is wonderful at revealing his inner hurt (his previous girlfriend cheated on him), and Irglova exudes that sort of Ingrid Bergmanesque Eastern European femininity that we westerners find so alluring. Her character, we learn, lives with her mom in the slums, has a small child and an absentee husband, and sings and plays the piano with some ability.

“Once” has never really rolled out with a wide opening in America, even though it won the Audience Award for Drama at the Sundance Film Festival. And it’s easy to see why people, even grownups, liked it. The main characters are both quite captivating (in a low-key, naturalistic kinda way), and Director Carney avoids some obvious clichés. Both the guy’s dad and the girl’s mom are supportive of their children’s ambitions – a rarity on or off the screen.

As in “Bridges of Madison County,” you come away with the unmistakable feeling that the would-be lovers, in another time and place, might have been perfect for each other. But despite what most glitzy Hollywood releases would have us believe, Love does not conquer All.

As for the music, it’s reminiscent of the kind of folk-poppy thing that Leonard Cohen has been writing since the 1970s: melancholy, dark and lyric. The words are full of hurt and yearning, the music just north of monotony.

It’s quite appealing, depending on your taste and patience. If you’re interested in the film, watch for the DVD or perhaps a run on cable TV. It’s currently in only 150 theaters nationwide, but very worth seeing.

Meanwhile, back at the Dixie:

Currently playing in Downtown Staunton we find “Ratatouille,” “Hairspray,” “The Simpsons Movie,” and “Stardust.” I’ve seen them all and they’re all good entertainment, fit for the whole family. Hurry on down.

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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