Friday, 13 January 2012

THE SWELL SEASON - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Lovebirds of ONCE make beautiful music together in new documentary about their concert tour wherein they fall sadly out of love.

The Swell Season (2011)
dir. Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins & Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Starring: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová


(**1/2 if you hated the movie Once, *1/2 if you hated the music too)

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Music is the tie that binds. It's also a universal language - kind of like love. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová starred in the huge independent hit movie Once. Written and directed by John Carney, shot on tape for almost zero dollars over a three-week period in 2006, the movie went on to become a multi-million dollar grosser, a prize-winner at Sundance and even more miraculously, copped the 2008 Oscars for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures and Best Original Song ("Falling Slowly").

Its stars (who triple-played as singers and composers) were complete unknowns. Hansard had been a busker in Dublin for years and Irglová was a recent immigrant from the Czech Republic. The movie was a delicate love story between two characters who, through a chance meeting on the streets of Dublin, become musical collaborators. As the movie progresses, the characters eventually fall for each other and the songs they write chart their ever-deepening love.

The movie almost sickened me. "Almost" is the operative word. In spite of its twee whimsy, I was, by the end of the movie, sold on its strange, unique (albeit earnest) beauty and that damn song "Falling Slowly" was rooted in my brain for much longer than I would want it to be.

The movie itself and the tale of the movie's success are both Cinderella stories. The story of what eventually happened to Hansard and Irglová is charted in the new documentary The Swell Season and while the Cinderella story continues, it comes to a most unhappy ending.

The movie follows the singer-composers, separated by almost 20 years in age, as they begin a worldwide tour with their band "The Swell Season". The two had actually fallen in love and during the first half of the movie, as we see them rehearse, play huge concerts, kibitz backstage, spend quiet time together and visit with their respective families. They definitely seem joined at the hip in ALL respects and most importantly, it's clear how deeply in love they are. The second half of the movie takes a tragic turn. In this sense, the filmmakers were really lucky, since I suspect a straightforward concert film of these two might have proven pretty intolerable for anyone but their most diehard fans.

The toil of the road, their age difference and a very affecting personal tragedy all contribute to their relationship falling apart in every respect - other than their symbiotic MUSICAL relationship.

It's definitely an interesting and watchable movie, especially for anyone who loved Once, but the filmmaking is competent at best and as an exploration of a musical subject, it certainly lacks the extraordinary power of something like Paul Williams Still Alive - a picture with an astoundingly dynamic subject and directed with genuine filmmaking savvy and artistry. The Swell Season attempts to mask its competence by presenting the movie in monochrome tones, but this seems a bit more pretentious rather than being appropriate. That said, the tones work whenever we focus on Hansard and his very strange family.

What seems odd is that the movie presents very little of Irglová's family and background, placing most of the emphasis on Hansard. Perhaps he just seemed more interesting to the filmmakers or, as I suspect, Irglová simply doesn't have Hansard's depth of life-experience as she displays in some of the latter "argument" scenes. For me, Hansard seemed like the voice of reason and a true artist, while Irglová felt a bit like a modest talent who stumbled into something a bit over her head - aesthetically and emotionally.

Luckily and happily, as with any movie (especially one that is shot mostly hand-held), the sound is first-rate and seeing the movie on a big screen with a great audio system would be a real pleasure.

In this sense, The Swell Season is a Cinderella story of two solitudes.

"The Swell Season" is currently in theatrical release. In Canada, the film is playing at two exquisite independent venues, The Royal Cinema in Toronto and Vancity in Vancouver and is being released via Mongrel Media.