Tribeca 2011 Review: THE SWELL SEASON
Directors: Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Cast: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Anyone who enjoyed the charming catharsis of ONCE back in 2006, and then saw musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová graciously accept an Oscar for the title track “Falling Slowly” at the 80th Academy Awards, are probably already big fans of the band The Swell Season. Seeking out and watching the documentary THE SWELL SEASON - which works almost as a real-life sequel to ONCE - is essential to anyone who wants to continue on with the lives of both artists as they struggle to maintain their musical integrity, their friendship, and their very public love affair.
The unprecedented access to both Hansard and Irglová in THE SWELL SEASON almost makes you feel like a peeping tom - a voyeuristic onlooker that has suddenly seen too much, and that’s genuinely uncomfortable at times. One particular scene reminded me of a moment in D.A. Pennebaker’s Cinéma vérité classic DON’T LOOK BACK which chronicles Bob Dylan as he tours through Britain in 1967. There’s a moment where former Animals keyboardist Alan Price - who had just recently been let go from the band - is asked about the breakup by Dylan. Price tries to play it off but he is quite visibly hurt and quietly turns his back to return to playing blues licks on a backstage piano. It’s a raw moment that Dylan and Pennebaker later talked about taking out of the film.
In THE SWELL SEASON, another kind of intimate moment is captured when Hansard and Irglová go skinny-dipping, and it’s such a private moment it feels as though you accidentally walked in on them and should apologize profusely and leave. The team that chronicled the lives of the band (Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, and Carlo Mirabella-Davis) might have discussed leaving that moment in as well; because they do, it sets the tone for the entire film and shows the level of comfort Hansard and Irglová had with the filmmakers.
Like DON’T LOOK KNOW, the film is shot in striking black-and-white, which immediately increases the level of intimacy and gives the film and the events it covers a real sense of timelessness. This story has happened to many bands many times before: they fall in love, they experience incredible success, and slowly drift apart while they try to keep the band together and the magic intact. Almost like a folk Fleetwood Mac, The Swell Season’s romantic life was very public, but it also fueled the inspiration for songs that ended up being incredibly meaningful to fans across the world.
THE SWELL SEASON works in two ways: if you’re already fans of the band, backstage access is granted and there are a number of memorable performances captured on film; if you’re unfamiliar with Glen and Marketa, the documentary offers a unique and filterless look into their world. It’s an unflinching look at the lives of these people, and it manages to capture the magic and energy of The Swell Season’s onstage persona. The real accomplishment is channeling that into a truly engaging documentary that is just as cathartic and emotional as Hansard and Irglová’s introduction in ONCE.
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