Friday, July 13, 2012

The Swell Season: Falling Slowly Apart

If you haven't seen the 2006 Irish musical Once, do yourself, independent cinema, the republics of Ireland and Czech and the ideal of artistic collaboration a favor and do so immediately. I'll wait. Done? Wasn't it great? Now for The Swell Season. This 2011 documentary follows the stars of Once, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, as they tour with their eponymous band on the massive wave of popularity and recognition gained by the film and the duo's Oscar win for Best Song, "Falling Slowly."

The documentary is as impressionistic and natural as the film, shot in a beautiful black and white, so footage from performances and rehearsals, interviews with Hansard's fame-obsessed mother and pathologically disappointed father (who drank himself to death before filming ended), and testimonials from fans are given as much weight as the movie's most compelling thread--the dissolution of the professional and personal relationship between Hansard and Irglova.

Though Once is a modern-day fairy tale, it seems that both the stars played versions of themselves-- Hansard is as brash and loud as his scratchy and powerful tenor, whereas Irglova's delicate harmonizing corresponds to her more subtle strength and introspective personality. While this combination once fed the couple's creative and romantic energy--as Hansard wistfully remarks when remembering co-writing the songs for Once, "it was just so easy with this girl"--The Swell Season chronicles how that very interplay turns against the two, cannibalizing their love.

Irglova begins to resist and ultimately resent the way she has to make herself available to the public, an element of touring that the extroverted Hansard clearly thrives on. And his cheerful devil-may-care approach to deadlines and schedules begins to wear on Irglova's sense of responsibility. These two don't break up the way people do in the movies, with one partner clearly wronged. They break up the way people do in real life--with heartbreaking hesitancy, a little bit of meanness, and a lot of sadness. The Swell Season is a bittersweet but beautiful companion to the magical Once. But Jesus, it's Friday and it's a gorgeous morning, and not all love stories end this way, so let's leave this post on a hopeful note, shall we?

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