The world fell in love with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová when their songwriting collaboration in the film Once (2007) culminated in a jubilant Oscar win. But behind the scenes, where Glen and Mar's on-screen romance became reality, a grueling two-year world tour threatens to fracture their fated bond. Filmed in black and white, this music-filled documentary is an intimate look at the exhilaration and turmoil created by both love and fame.Written by
Good documentary, but it hints at even deeper elements. Frustrating, but worth seeing.
The world fell in love with musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova when their tiny indie romance film "Once" became a world wide hit. That adulation was fed further when they won the Oscar for best song – and gave endearing thank you speeches. And the icing on the cake was when we all learned this lovable and appealing duo were now a real life couple, not just a movie one.
"The Swell Season" follows their 2 year American tour after winning the Oscar. Shot in lovely black and white it captures fragments of terrific musical performances, snippets of life on the road, and pieces of the difficult and choppy real-life waters this seemingly fairy-tale couple went through. The weight of career, fame and – perhaps most importantly – the much younger Ms. Irglova's need to start to be her own person with her own way of seeing and reacting to the world all puts their relationship to a severe test.
At the same time, the film gives us a lot of Mr. Hansard's back-story in some amazing scenes where he talks with his alternately funny and creepily fame obsessed mother, and heartbreaking alcoholic ex-boxer father.
All these elements are always interesting and often arresting. But for me the film is good, but not quite great, because each of these elements feels just a little incomplete, a little cut short, a little cheated.
Their music and performances are terrific, but songs are never allowed to be finished; often we get just a verse and a chorus before cutting away. The 'life-on-the-road elements are so brief they end up feeling familiar from other docs about musicians.
The character study element is very strong, but both one sided (we learn far, far less about Ms. Irglova than Mr. Hansard), and frustrating when we get highlights and striking moments instead of depth.
And the strongest part of the film – a very intimate look at the battle of a complex relationship to thrive (or even survive) as the people evolve, and the pressures on them grow suffers from having the process and role of time jumped over.
Any one of these threads could have been a terrific film. I could easily have been thrilled by a simple, wonderfully short concert film, or a portrait of what drives an artist, or the study of a rich and sad relationship being rocked to it's core. But all three, plus an 'on the road' music doc sharing 88 minutes mean each of these worlds only get - at best - 20 minutes each – just not enough to get nearly as far into any one story element as I would have liked.
Still very worth seeing, especially if you liked 'Once' (without that you might feel a bit lost about just who these people ARE). There are great and indelible moments. I just wish the whole wasn't somehow a little lesser than the sum of it's parts.
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