Picture Music and Lyrics as directed by Michael Winterbottom: A lonely busker (singer Glen Hasnard) and a young pianist (Markela Irglova) meet on the streets of Dublin and bond over music. They don’t have bendy sex, but they get something even more romantic: their own musical.
The film’s budget is low, but it’s a musical nonetheless, with frequent full performances of the duo’s appealing songs (the low-income characters make a better poor man’s Radiohead than Snow Patrol). Not much happens; the pair regards each other, sings a bit, and tries to record a demo. It’s the film’s eye for the romance of small moments that makes it all so beguiling. Early on, Irglova walks down a nighttime street, listening to Hansard’s backing track on headphones and singing along with her own lyrics. It’s a simple image, but the camera follows it, letting the song play until the loveliness is almost unbearable.
Once is nearly a victim of its own sweetness as every thin supporting character beams low-key rays of sunshine. But it maintains a palpable sense of melancholy — the film is so concise and unplugged that it can’t help but keep its feet near the ground. The moments of lift off, then, feel all the more exhilarating.