Posts Tagged ‘the swell season’

Critics Roundup — October 20

Friday, October 21st, 2011

The Three Musketeers |||||Red
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey |||Yellow|Green|
Johnny English |Yellow||||
Martha Marcy May Marlene |||Green|Green|
The Catechism Cataclysm (NY, LA Nov 4)||||Yellow|
Le Havre (LA) |Green||Green||Green
Paul Goodman Changed My Life (NY) |||Green||
Margin Call |Green||Green||
Norman (limited)|||Green||
Oranges and Sunshine (NY, LA) |||Yellow||
The Swell Season (NY Oct 21) |||Green|Green|

Critics Roundup — October 13

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Footloose |Yellow||||Red
The Thing |Red||||
The Big Year |||||Yellow
The Skin I Live In (limited) |Green|||Green|Green
Texas Killing Fields (limited) |||||Yellow
The Swell Season (Austin, NY Oct 21) |||Green|Green|

Review: The Swell Season

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

In 2007, a little low-budget indie out of Ireland called Once took the indie film world by storm. The film told the story of a busker singing on street corners (The Frames’ Glen Hansard, in a role that largely mirrors his own beginnings as a musician), his relationship with a young pianist and singer (Markéta Irglová), and the music the two of them make together.

One of the best-known scenes in Once shows the characters writing the song “Falling Slowly” in a music store, him playing guitar and calling out chords, her playing along on the piano and finding a perfect harmony a third up from his melody, until their musical lines cross over in the chorus and he’s suddenly singing a falsetto harmony over her melody. It’s a lovely scene, and the song went on to win Best Song at the 2008 Oscars for the pair. The documentary The Swell Season (also the band name under which Hansard and Irglová collaborate and tour), filmed from 2007 to 2010, picks up where the Oscars left off, showing us what happened to Hansard and Irglová after that glowing Oscar victory.

The film builds on the naturalistic feel of Once, shot in black-and-white and back-and-forthing between scenes of Hansard and Irglová as a couple: singing together, frolicking naked in the surf, sharing moments both sweet and fraught with tension; freestyle interviews with Hansard’s proud parents and various members of their entourage; and individual interviews with the duo chronicling both their personal stories and the tale of the rise and fall of their romance.

It’s no spoiler to say that the fairy-tale romance between Hansard and Irglová didn’t last, although the pair remain collaborators and friends. And The Swell Season gently, respectfully shows the trajectory of their relationship, and how their sudden rise to fame following the widespread success of Once and their Oscar win affected them both as a couple and individually. Hansard, 18 years older than Irglová, had been performing as for 17 years before he found success with Once and “Falling Slowly,” but for Irglová, just 17 when filming on Once started, fame came overnight.

What’s interesting about the dynamic arc of this documentary of their story is that we see how there are times when Irglová is overwhelmed by the attention of fans and the pressure of touring, while Hansard seems irritated by her reluctance and dismissive of her concerns. But then it flips around later in a scene where she gently admonishes him for fighting against fame so hard, when he wanted and pursued it all along: “And it’s just such a hard existence, is it not? To always find the battle? Why can’t you just … I don’t know, it’s like … You wanted it, you can’t say you didn’t want it. And now you’re rejecting it. I just find the idea of living my life with a constant sense of struggle really exhausting. I can’t imagine living my life that way.”

He wants her sympathy, she delivers a dose of pragmatic reality, and we sense the end is nearing for their romance.

Fortunately, the film avoids veering too far into maudlin, “reality TV” territory by not overly dwelling on the tension and the fights between the pair paparazzi-style, but still showing honestly the impact of fame on each of them. Hansard’s mother, obviously bursting with pride at her son’s success, goes on and on and on about the Oscar, and clearly has hopes that her son and his songbird partner will marry. “Imagine if you had a child, and he could say his mom and dad both have an Oscar!” she gushes.

The pleasure she takes in the reflected glory of Hansard’s fame starts to rub at her son; they argue about her desire that he have constant fame and attention, while he’s growing weary and wondering what’s the point. Don’t take it away from me, she pleads. Let me think what I think, and leave that be. And he does, but later berates himself for tarnishing the happiness his success has brought to the lives of both his mother and his stalwart, emotionally walled-off father. When Hansard argues with his mother, he says he’s not sure it really matters if he’s remembered seven generations hence. Who cares, after all? What does it matter? But in the end, he’s still singing his heart out, strumming that guitar, and she can still lay claim to having the only son in their town to ever win an Oscar.

There are fights, and reminiscing, and raucous moments of fun and cutting loose on tour. And there are some heartfelt performances by the pair sprinkled liberally throughout the film. Hansard’s roving, gravelly vocals, his emotion and anguish and passion dominate the stage in one way, while Irglová’s gentle, transparent vulnerability captivate in another. They harmonize effortlessly, and it’s easy to see why fans of the pair have romanticized them in much the same way that, say, hardcore Fleetwood Mac fans felt (and still feel) ownership of the on-again, off again relationship between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. It’s easy to idealize and simplify love when you see a couple collaborate so organically in an artistic way; if they can do that, we think, why, the rest should be just easy. But of course, life isn’t that simple, or that sweet.

There’s a scene in The Swell Season where Hansard and Irglová are working on a song, and it very much — probably deliberately — mirrors the “Falling Slowly” scene from Once: Hansard guiding the way, calling out the chords, Irglová looking to him with complete trust and love and following his lead, her lilting harmony blending her voice smoothly into his. It bookends very nicely with an interview bit of Hansard talking about how he’d always played music with guys before, and until he started making music with Irglová, he’d never been able to be so vulnerable musically. For a while there, that effortlessness of creative collaboration must have felt truly magical, the sort of thing that as an artist, you hope to find but rarely do.

But as things progress (or perhaps, to be more accurate, as the film has been edited to reflect) and Irglová starts to find her own voice, her own way, she looks more and more to herself and to a future in which she’s forging her own path, making a destiny that’s truly her own. She’s no longer the young girl all starry-eyed over the older, seasoned musician, and he’s seeking some level of reassurance and steadfastness of love that it seems, for her at least, has mellowed more into an abiding friendship and deep respect than a need for a life partnership.

And it’s heartbreaking and tragic and sweet all at once; as has been true of relationships probably since long before Shakespeare observed that “the course of true love never did run smooth,” romantic love, however it may feel in the beginning, simply does not always sustain the growth and changes two lovers undergo as life moves on around and through them.

The film opens with Hansard telling an anecdote at a concert about kicking a ball and watching it go farther and farther away, farther than you ever thought possible. And a part of you, he says, is thinking wow, I can’t believe I really kicked the ball that far. But there’s a part of you, he half-jokingly muses, that just wishes you could have your damn ball back. The audience laughs, but there’s a note of sorrow and regret in his voice, a certain something in his stature, that feels very sad. Is he talking about the love he shared with Irglová, or the life he had before he finally found the fame that had eluded him for so many years? A little of both, perhaps. This is life and love: the falling in and the falling out, the hope and the sorrow, the bittersweet ending, the cost of fame. And, at the end, a hope that the music and friendship that drew them together will outlast the fleeting nature of the love that bloomed and then faded.

Where to see it:
The Swell Season plays at Downtown Independent in LA through October 13 before opening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin October 17 and Cinema Village in NY October 21. For other showtimes near you, see the film’s schedule on its official website.

Critics Roundup — October 6

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The Ides of March |Yellow||Green||Yellow
Real Steel |Yellow||||Yellow
Blackthorn (limited) |||Green||
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone |||Green|Green|
The Swell Season (LA., NY Oct 21) |||Green||
Dirty Girl (limited) ||||Green|
The Way (limited) |||||Green
1911 (limited) |Yellow||||
Woman on the Sixth Floor (limited) |Yellow||||