DVD Review - The Swell Season

The tune "Falling Slowly" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The track was from the independent film Once (2007). The award was given to two people, the two songwriters, Glen Hansard from Ireland and Markéta Irglová from the Czech Republic. This documentary by Chris Dapkins, the cinematographer, Nick August-Perna, the editor, and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, the producer, follow Hansard and Irglová, while they're on tour and as they deal with their new-found fame.

The film Once is a fictionalized version of what Hansard and Irglová actually experienced. In the Oscar-winning film, they play the parts of two musicians who meet and fall in love. This documentary is proof yet again of life imitating art. In this nonfiction, Hansard and Irglová talk about how they themselves are two musicians who actually met and fell in love. When they were on screen the first time, they got to be romantic and sweet. Here, they get to be realistic and upset, often at each other. The documentary could also be considered a sequel, but about the same thing and the same people yet with an opposing trajectory.

Despite that, the two together make absolutely beautiful music. It probably could be best put under the banner of folk music. In both movies, we see Hansard with his acoustic guitar belting out, always fully using his lungs and vocal chords. We also see Irglová on piano and serenading in a way that perfectly complements his fierce and tough voice. No matter what, they create sound and lyrics that are so deep and soulful and powerful.

Dapkins, August-Perna, and Mirabella-Davis make their documentary all black-and-white. Their goal might have been to distinguish their movie from Once. The lack of color does take away from the romanticism of the first film. This one doesn't have all the shaky camerawork of Once, making it less an immediate, in-the-moment story and more of a contemplative and examined thing. What's examined for the most part is the fame thrust upon them because neither like it very much.

When Irglová was given her chance to speak at the Oscars, the quote that she said was, "Fair play to those who dare to dream." The quote echoed many acceptance speeches over the years of people who appreciate what their success has brought them, especially when it comes to their art. In lieu of what she learns by the end of this movie, it's probably not a quote she would soon repeat.

It's clear her feelings have changed because what her success has brought is at times unwanted adoration. It's akin to what was seen in the documentary Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011), which is also about a musical act on tour. Conan gets frustrated at people for wanting to take pictures and have him sign things, especially when it's a parade of people. Irglová experiences similarly and it freaks her out. It makes her question and makes us question our idea of celebrity.

This idea doesn't come to a head until Hansard confronts and argues with his mother about if his Oscar is something about which he cares or even should care. Most, in the industry or who study it, have heard of the Oscar curse, but generally those with Academy Awards are appreciative. This might be the first time I've seen someone be almost resentful of his Oscar.

Like with documentaries about musicians, the true wonder comes from hearing them do what they do best. Songs from their first film Once are performed. We also get tunes from the album "The Swell Season," which they released after that film. Hansard and Irglová then called themselves collectively The Swell Season. The last album they did was called "Strict Joy." Listening to them, it's not a wonder why these two are Oscar-winners.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.


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