Movie Review: The Swell Season
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The Swell Season
DIRECTORS: Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, Carlo Mirabella-Davis
STARRING: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Seventh Art Releasing
RELEASE DATE: October 21, 2011 (limited)

Everyone has those movies they have a certain kind of special attachment to””movies that moved them, that struck an emotional chord, and left a lasting imprint.

For me, one of those movies was 2006’s Once, which tells the story of musician known only as “Guy” who works at his dad’s vacuum repair shop and makes a little extra coin by singing his songs on the streets of Ireland, and the young Czech girl he meets one day (fittingly dubbed “Girl”) who sells flowers and is also a musician. The two form a strong bond through their music and common troubles they have with former lovers, but, as they go on to collaborate on some incredible music together, each is unsure what it is they want in life and for their futures.

It’s a wonderful little story, and the fact that the film’s stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, are real musicians with little to no acting backgrounds whatsoever only adds to its charm. But it’s not really so much about the movie as it is the music. All the heart and soul of Once, the burning fire that fuels the story, it comes from its beautiful and eventual Oscar–winning music. And that’s why it’s a movie that is so important to me personally.

What many do not know is that there was something of a real–life sequel to Once. A romance that developed between Hansard and Irglová, who had known each other for multiple years before filming, as well as a new musical venture between the two called The Swell Season. And as it turned out, the cameras just kept right on rolling after Once, which resulted in a documentary also called The Swell Season, a very real–life story of life, love, and the paths we take…sometimes by choice, other times with painful reluctance.

The documentary spans three years, starting off in 2007 after Once had made its mark when Hansard and Irglová were embarking on a two–year Swell Season tour and a budding romance. With cameras on them almost constantly, we see not only the duo’s intimate moments but their excitement for this new journey together and their growing popularity, as well as the hardships of a grueling tour and the smothering effect that fame can have. Ultimately the result is the two parting ways (as a couple; they still remain friends and the band is still active), and retrospectives from 2010 are sprinkled within the movie, allowing them to look back on the two years and share their thoughts.

It’s not solely about the relationship between the two musicians but also their individual journeys as well, which happened to run together for this particular section of time. You see Hansard’s mother and how unflinchingly happy she (and the whole town) is for his Academy Award win while he’s unsure how important it really is. His father’s incredibly difficult (and eventual losing) battle with alcoholism. Irglová’s struggles as a naturally shy and quiet individual with the overwhelming responsibility of always being in the spotlight, always having to talk to people, sign autographs, and take pictures. All things they deal with and we see as The Swell Season moves forward.

It’s a movie that will tug at various emotions. There’s a lot of good times to witness, filled with laughter and joy you can’t help but smiling at (I particularly enjoyed a moment where they pick out all of the things that were photoshopped on the Once poster). But when things get rough and you see the storm beginning to manifest it can be heartbreaking and almost hard to watch. I don’t know Hansard or Irglová personally, obviously, but I felt like it was wrong for me to be seeing such personal moments in their own lives. What business is it of mine to see their struggles and battles and the proverbial “bumps in the road” they had to traverse? But that’s what the documentary is about: the road. The paths they travel, the good and the bad, and continuing forward no matter what.

The Swell Season is a touching and simple film, telling the stories of two beautiful souls as they deal with the problems many of us face in life with a spotlight on them few of us will ever know the pressures of, all mixed together with their powerful music setting the emotional tones. A story about two people, a guy and a girl, who fall in love, travel the same road together for a while, and eventually decide to take different paths. It’s eerily similar to the fictional love story told in Once, and that makes it all the more compelling. The two films, one real and one not, go hand–in–hand with one another, and they are perfect companion pieces, not to be missed by fans or those who will become fans soon.



  1. I had not heard about this!!! Thanks for the heads up.  Once was such an amazing surprise – I saw it on a whim without any of the hype or recommendations – and immediately fell in love.  I am glad there is something else with these two actors.

    Comment by Aeryn2769 — October 25, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

  2. Thanks for this review.  I had wondered about how deep the documentary would go and whether it might just cover a tour.  I liked “Once” a lot and enjoy the music, but your review makes me want to see the documentary even more than I did.

    Comment by Chimesfreedom - Pophistory — October 26, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

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