This bittersweet documentary tells the story of how life imitated art after the success of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's low-key indie flick Once
After the album, the movie and the Oscar comes the documentary. The Swell Season is a 90-minute behind-the-scenes film which dreamily observes how Dublin troubadour Glen Hansard and Czech singer Markéta Irglová's fictional musical and romantic relationship became blurred with reality.
It's a cute meta piece which follows the doting and then disintergrating couple in a fumbling style, from indie flick obscurity with 2006's no-budget Once to Oscar glory. The camera lingers and eavesdrops on the couple as they bond with Hansard’s brand of spiritual folk rock – all surging verses and rousing choruses - providing a heightened soundtrack.
Obviously, your enjoyment of all this will very much depend on whether or not you like hand-wringing, turbo-charged emo-folk and, indeed, whether you find something worthwhile in Hansard's pained solemnity.
The attractive and sweet-voiced Irglová certainly comes across as the more solid of the pair and she is also far more steely and determined than she might seem. We learn of her first meeting with Hansard when she was just 13 and he was friends with her adoring parents and from the outset, she clearly shares his love for both the restorative and transformative power of music.
However, she also seems to have a keener sense of the great fun to be had too; he’s a serious artiste for whom fame is a hindrance, a nuisance to be endured as he gets on with serious business of being serious. He doth protest way too much. However, scenes at home in Ballymun chatting with his mum and late father around the kitchen table are heartwarming, funny, and reveal much about Hansard's upbringing and his questing style of music.
Shot in studied black and white, The Swell Season has some lovely images and well-made scenes but there is perhaps too much of Hansard wandering around ancient graveyards (with his dog, naturally) or filling his pipe on the ramparts of a castle for that extra Celtic twilight Paddy-whackery. It’s hardly Dylan in Don't Look Back; hell, it’s hardly Luke Kelly sauntering down Raglan Road murmuring Kavanagh to himself on a dusky Sunday evening.
Still, the blossoming and eventual withering of the couple's love is charted with real bittersweet and naked honesty. The Swell Season is one for the fans but his detractors may well have to swallow hard and admit that Glen of the downs is a good bloke in his own arty and gauche way.