The Swell Season

The Swell Season


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Offbeat musical romance Once was a hit with cinemagoers and the industry, being honoured with the audience award at Sundance and taking home the best song Oscar for Falling Slowly at the following year's Academy Awards. The film's melancholy fragility and soulfulness were no doubt enhanced by the fact that its two stars - The Frames frontman Glen Hansard and Czech musician Markéta Irglová - were a real-life musical and romantic couple. Hansard and Irglová - who has a broad Irish accent in contrast to that employed by the fictional character she played in Once - actually met when she was just 13, only going on later to fall for one another May to December style.

Documentary The Swell Season also plays out in a minor key, as it charts what happened to the pair of them and that ephemeral thing called love in the two years after they shot from comparative obscurity to worldwide fame. Directors Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis opt for classy black and white to hop aboard the tour bus with them as they take their music across the States.

While the film may be monochrome, every colour of emotion is represented here, from elation in the creative process to anxiousness and disillusionment. And while Hansard loves the roar of the crowd and the adoration of a fanbase just itching to meet him, the business of fame sits less comfortably with Irglová. Hansard, too, carries his troubles - mostly to do with unsettled business with his now-dead, alcoholic father - deep inside, while Irglová wears her emotions close to the skin, particularly when she sings.

Fan comments, such as, "I hope you guys make it to the end of time!" carry a weight of irony when we are privvy to intimate moments showing the strains of a relationship that is anything but swell. Although emotionally vivid, the editing of the documentary is a bit of a mish-mash, with some of the more everyday band-on-the-road scenes feeling spurious to what is, essentially, the story of a love lost. There's also something of an imbalance in the way that Hansard and Irglová are presented, with rather too much of him, his background and motivations and altogether too little of what makes her tick and what her aspirations are for the future. There's a sense that even here, his weight of personality somewhat unfairly overshadows hers.

Still, with its leitmotif of melancholic love and intimate approach to its subjects, The Swell Season has a universal appeal even for those not familiar with the film that started it all.

Reviewed on: 17 Feb 2012
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Documentary following the songwriters and stars of Once, after their triumphant Oscar win.
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Director: Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová

Year: 2011

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: US, Czech Republic, Ireland

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