The Swell Season (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Upon the success of their film “Once” and winning an Oscar for Best Original Song, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová go on tour across the globe. While they are happy and excited to share their music and become a part of something big, “The Swell Season,” directed by Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, shows how fame takes a toll on the couple’s personal and professional relationship. Though not a sequel to “Once,” the documentary works as one, in a way, because the films share a knack for looking into the souls of their subjects with honesty, embracing the pain in small but important revelations.
To show the documentary in black and white is a wise decision. It creates a dream-like quality, us having to look into the realities of the singer-songwriters and discovering that maybe going on tours is not as glamorous or fantastic as one might assume. Yes, we see them celebrate through small gatherings and drinks, but these are occasional. I enjoyed watching the hard work put into preparing prior to a show, the stresses that may occur when a venue fails to acquire the proper instruments requested by the performers, and the inner struggles specific to Hansard and Irglová, the former having to come to terms with the pressures and expectations of his family and the latter questioning whether fame is right for her. When the two clash, there is no yelling or screaming matches in front of the camera. Instead, the silences and pauses are the ones making deep cuts.
In addition, shooting the film in monochrome tends to highlight the emotions during and outside of stage performances. The reason why I loved listening to the songs is because there is a contradiction. The lyrics are often sad and aching, but there is undeniable power in the voices and the delivery of the words. In that way, it is an uplifting experience—empowering even.
But the picture is not without sense of humor. Especially memorable is the point when Irglová and Hansard look at the poster for “Once” (I believe two versions have been released) and pick out the details that have been Photoshopped. For example, in the actual shoot, Hansard claims that he wore a hat and that his clothes had been changed by the computer in order to make him “look handsome.” But what really bug them about the poster is that the image was manipulated in such a way that it looks like they held hands during the photoshoot. In fact, they never did. The duo may be the ones we recognize in front of the camera, but we are reminded that those in control at times are people we never see.
The one person I wanted to know more about is Catherine Hansard, Glen’s mother. She is just so proud of her son winning that Oscar, but Glen tells her that he does not like the attention. There is a sort of argument between them at some point that really touched me. I was moved because it reminded me of times when I would argue with my mom or dad and sometimes it easier to just walk away and try to let it go. Sometimes it is most frustrating because it feels like the more you put in the effort of explaining something, it seems like the farther both parties are in reaching a common ground.
While “The Swell Season” touches upon the topic of celebrity and what it means to its subjects, it remains to be a highly personal work. Hansard and Irglová are Academy Award winners, but we relate to them because it is made clear that the things they consider important are what we value, too: family, friendships, personal happiness, being and remaining enthusiastic to our passions.