Glen Hansard, lead singer for the Irish band The Frames, has a long, woebegone face pebbled with a rust-colored beard; his eyes are immense, with the peeled look of billiard balls. He suggests a gangly Gaelic version of the young John Lithgow. The character Hansard plays in the enchanting film Once, identified in the credits simply as The Guy, is a Dublin busker who holds down a day job at his dad’s vacuum cleaner repair shop.
The Guy plays his guitar and sings downtown during work breaks, entertaining passersby with popular standards. At night he’s usually entertaining himself, performing his own compositions—poignant ballads of romantic masochism delivered in a startlingly impassioned style that quavers into an expressive falsetto in the most intimate sections. It’s during one of these twilight interludes that he meets The Girl (Markéta Irglová), who hears one of his songs and understands immediately that it was written for an ex-lover he hasn’t gotten over.