The Swell Season

10 Nov

Title: The Swell Season
Year: 2011
Directors: Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Writer: –
Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 90 min
Major Awards: –
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

 

In 2006 a little Irish film filled with music and love graced our screens. That movie was Once, made for a mere $150’000 it was pretty much a masterpiece, my fifth favorite film of that entire year and one that really spoke to me with its naturalistic approach to the story it was trying to tell, with Steven Spielberg even having been quoted to saying “A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year”.

And Once really was just that, an inspiring little film that really got to your very core as it showed the artistic and personal relationship developing between two musicians played by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who had collaborated before the movie and collaborated to make the actual soundtrack to the film, which resulted in a richly deserved Academy Award for Best Original Song for ‘Falling Slowly’ one the album’s highlights. The collaborations, thankfully for us, didn’t end there, as Mr. Hansard and Ms. Irglová created The Swell Season, a folk rock outfit for them to put out some great songs.

This documentary which shares the name with the actual band shows us what went on there, as a romance and artistic collaboration made for a movie became real, and these two made an album, fell in love and started touring the world. That kind of journey doesn’t come easy of course, with lots of psychological wear-and-tear going on which ended up having an effect on the romantic link between the two but not on the musical one. And that’s ultimately what this feels like, both a really good musical documentary and a quite intimate look at a love that grew out of eclectic circumstances and that has to subsist in very similar ones.

Much like Once, this documentary also has that vibe as though you’ve inadvertently stumbled into a room with these two people who don’t notice you’re there, it has this voyeuristic feel as you watch such a perfectly intimate story unfold. And what’s crazy is that the three filmmakers that made this film hadn’t seen Once, weren’t familiar with the music these two made and weren’t even experienced with making music documentaries. And in a weird way I think that lack of familiarity with their subjects kind of helped The Swell Season be its own great film and not just a behind-the-scenes look at Once, and it’s really cool to see what they observed intermittently over the couple of years the film spans, and it’s all shot in this black and white that really looks great.

Though to be fair, even though the filmmakers weren’t familiar with Once and do indeed give this film a compelling and strong enough introduction to make it appealing to those who may not have seen the film either, this one’s still undeniably made to be loved that much more by those of us who have indeed seem the five-year-old film from which it all stemmed. Because it really is cool to have met these two in that little, brilliant movie and to now see what the unexpected level of fame does to their music and to their romantic involvement with each other, it’s a damn fine documentary-debut for this trio of filmmakers.

What I thought was nice about the way the filmmakers approached this was that their presence was never once felt, it was as though they were invisible and we were just put there to simply watch an uncensored tale of the growing pains that come with starting a band and a relationship. It really may seem like an obvious quality, but look at most of today’s documentaries and you’ll find that the vast majority of time the filmmaker is either the literal star of the movie or a really vocal part of it. Such is not the case in The Swell Season, in which a trio of voice just point us to what we have to observe, but say and do nothing more about it.

It really is a brilliant look, once you take the music and love out of it, at just the effects that fame can have. Mr. Hansard is an experienced guy who had been looking for his break for quite some time, and now he finally got it after quite a while; and on the other hand we have Ms. Irglová, eighteen years his junior, who we see handling such a overnight fame at a very young age in which she really wasn’t expecting it. It’s really special to see all that process, especially on Ms. Irglová because, since this film covers such a lengthy period, you kind of see her grow before your eyes in some ways as she learns how to handle it all.

I really do recommend The Swell Season, especially if you’re one of the many that were charmed to bits and pieces by Once, because this really is a case of art imitating life, or the other way round, and it has a lot of brilliant moments. Brilliant moments of music, brilliant moments of laughter and great romanticism, and especially brilliant moments of sadness, as you get the gist that music brought these two together and the success they achieved from it will pull them apart. But it’s ultimately all about the music, and the power music has to make people love each other and to keep them together even once that love is gone.

Grade: B

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