by / December 5th, 2013 /

The Swell Season

Review by on December 5th, 2013

 3/5 Rating

Director: Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Cast: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Certificate: 15a
Running Time: 88 minutes
Release Date: December 6th

“Fairplay to those who dream,” is a phrase uttered by Marketa Irglová during her Academy Award acceptance speech for ‘Best Song’ in 2008 alongside partner Glen Hansard. If she was to praise those same dreamers, would she be so forthcoming in her assurance that all is as it seems in the world of fame? That would appear to be one of the dilemmas the young artist faces during the course of the two years over which The Swell Season takes place.

The documentary film follows the affable Hansard and Irglová as they tour across Europe and America in the wake of their smash-hit independent film Once and is as ponderous as it is indulgent in the price of fame. What success means to the duo isn’t always as bright and beautiful as it appears to the likes of Hansard’s adorable mammy (one of the most interesting and entertaining characters in the film) and this makes up much of the drama, as the romantic relationship of Glen and Mar grows ever more strained.

One of the elements that made Once so compelling was that the characters rarely expressed their feelings through straight dialogue — almost all of the emotion of the film came from the beautiful soundtrack. The Swell Season, for better or worse, does not follow this template at all, making regular use of talking head sequences where Hansard, Irglova or someone from their entourage or respective families go deep into their inner demons, usually followed by a soulful song from the two leads. Possibly as a result of being more used to having a camera on him, we see more of good old Glen than anyone else in the film. which can often serve to make the musical segues rather lifeless — we already know the inner demons that informed the use of this song, because his talking head just told us a scene ago. At one point in the film, Hansard states that in his Frames days he wasn’t fond of writing love songs in case they made him seem to vulnerable — that vulnerability is a little bit over-exposed in this film to the detriment of any kind of mystique Hansard has left. The opposite is true of the quieter Irglová, deeply disturbed by the humiliating, ‘prostituting’ nature of fame (specifically appearing in photos with her fans) we only rarely get direct insights from her, beyond her haunting onstage performances.

To say that The Swell Season is not compelling viewing is frankly untrue — but it’s very much a mixed bag. The cinematography is quite beautiful, and the lives and times explored are intriguing, but certain moments and exchanges have the uncomfortable feeling of maudlin pretentiousness — a sort of arthouse reality-television movie. While it’s certainly essential viewing both for fans of the band themselves and of Once, it all seems just a little bit indulgent.