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The Swell Season

Lightning strikes ‘Once.’

Rod Lott May 10th, 2012

Remember how joyous you felt at the end of 2006's excellent Irish indie Once? Well, The Swell Season is why there is no sequel. Hell, it practically is the sequel, only factual instead of fictional.


Musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová were not an item when they played the MFEO lovers of Once, but that relationship status changed after the movie's release. By the time they deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Original Song the following year, they were sharing more than honors.

Taking its name from Hansard and Irglová's subsequent band, The Swell Season is a black-and-white documentary that follows them on tour. Unsurprisingly, it's chock-full of moments that are intimate, whether precious or uncomfortable — she cuts his hair, he recalls dropping out of school to pursue his dreams, they go skinny-dipping.

It's not all fun and games. After one concert, Hansard questions whether he's any good, despite the audience's fervent reaction. In the most touching and difficult-to-watch scene in the entire picture, his alcoholic father tells Hansard how proud he is of him.

And, of course, there's the dissolution of Hansard and Irglová's personal relationship, which the doc's directorial trio "lucked" into getting. It's a shame it had to happen, but I doubt the film would be half as compelling otherwise. The fractures are already present, such as when Irglová doesn't respond to a fan's wish that they "make it 'til the end of time."

When Hansard tells Irglová, "If you're miserable, I'll fall apart," you believe him, but you also believe it's a little amazing that they lasted this long under the stress of their act and the perceived weight of the world that fame and success bring.

If you can stand the gloom, tune in for some terrific tunes ... that give way to terrible times. It make me wish I could replay their Oscar-night triumph over and over — it still gives me chills — and just leave it at that. —Rod Lott

Hey! Read This:
Once film review  

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