Movie Review: The Swell Season

Mike Finkelstein is a huge fan of ONCE.  He has been falling slowly ever since 2006, and he wanted to get a peek into the world of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.  He got his wish.  Here is his review of “The Swell Season.”

PLOT: THE SWELL SEASON follows Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, stars of the cult music classic, ONCE, for three years on tour after winning Oscars for their little movie that could.  Watch as the two travel the world, and get an intimate glimpse into their relationship and personal life, and what fame really means to each.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  Back in 2006, ONCE was the little music movie that could.  A simple story about a busker and an immigrant, its songs and effortless love story won the hearts of millions.  Most importantly, it introduced the world to Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and on a certain level, introduced Glen and Markéta to each other.

As audiences found out soon after their Oscar win, despite knowing each other for years, it was Hansard and Irglová’s recent musical collaborations that brought them together, and the filming of ONCE that helped them fall in love.  To hear that there was a real love story behind a beautiful fictional one was just the icing on the cake of a cinematic moment already sweet, but as many people point out at the end of romance film…what happens next?  Are the two really soul mates or torn apart by real life?

That is where THE SWELL SEASON comes in.  A documentary spanning three years on the road in the lives of Hansard and Irglová, it is the closest sequel to ONCE that any fan could ask for.  We see the traditions and customs of a couple and group brought together by a bus and hundreds of concert halls, as well as personal one-on-one interviews with Hansard, Irglová, and their families.  Shot beautifully in black and white with a bold truthfulness that is a breath of fresh air in a world known for reality-television, THE SWELL SEASON shows us that while the fame, fortune and music may seem like a fairy tale to an outsider, real life can make even the sweetest dreams come true a stressful experience.

The conflict of THE SWELL SEASON (also the name of the band itself), lies on the constant feeling that “the grass is greener”.  For Irglová, who was barely 20 when ONCE took off, this entire experience is like being shot from a catapult.  She has loved Hansard since she was a little girl, and wants to be with him, but can’t stand the constant attention or being swarmed at 7:00 am and forced to take pictures with fans.  She is the same as you and I, and wishes that it could just be that simple.

Then, there is Hansard.  For the 37-year-old, who has been busking for years, you could say this is more like a long delayed flight leaving the airport.  He has finally made it, he loves to play his music to thousands and he greets all his fans with open arms.   Yet as he slowly grows tired of Irglová’s resistance, and his parents (who have their own personal issues, both health and relationship wise) constantly praise him and love that their child has an Oscar, he starts to wonder what all of this fame is really worth and what the achievement truly is.

What Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis do so well is that they do not make these underlying tensions the main focus.  Instead, they are equally balanced with the same type of honest moments of love and intimacy that made ONCE such a cherished piece of film.  Within the first few minutes, Irglová is giving Hansard a haircut as he smiles and jokes, “It’s a great life we have, isn’t it?” Another few minutes in, and the two are at the beach, playfully running naked into the ocean.  You can’t help but smile at their childlike playfulness, and the filmmakers have no problem giving the audiences a few other sweet diversions and peeks that only fame can offer: a post gig jamming session, a tour-bus party, and many others.

If you were a fan of ONCE, then you will adore THE SWELL SEASON.  Based in reality, it has the same tenderness and innocence as its predecessor, except this time, we have the added bonus of knowing it’s all true.  For fans of Hansard and Irglová, they already recognize that the ending may not be as Hollywood perfect, yet seeing something crumble is not the point of this documentary.  ONCE left us with a hope of true love and a beautiful life, and THE SWELL SEASON leave us with that same sense of hope.  Because, as Irglová said, “Fair play to those who dare to dream”.

GRADE: B+

Mike’s LIKES:

1) A BEAUTIFUL SEQUEL: THE SWELL SEASON plays as almost a sequel to ONCE, the movie that made Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová stars.  You are still in love with the characters, except this time, they are real.  A beautiful continuation into reality, and something that lets you feel like you have even more closure on the two and their lives.

Mike’s DISLIKES:
1) FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF NEWCOMERS: While this film is great as a stand-alone music documentary, I would definitely still suggest any viewers to check out ONCE first.  I don’t know how they would feel going into it without knowing the backstory, but again, this is coming from someone who has seen ONCE many times before.

EXTRA FACTS:
1) Filmed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis, Glen Hansard’s teacher from a class in the New York Film Academy.  Hansard invited him to come with the band on tour and chronicle their lives.
2) ONCE cost $160,000 to make.  It made over $20 Million worldwide.

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