“The Swell Season” almost feels like a sequel to the 2006 Irish indie musical “Once,” if the two main characters did get together and form a band (which is not entirely implausible). While “Once” was more or less a work of fiction, “The Swell Season” is a documentary, even if the documentarians’ verite approach might make anyone unknowing think otherwise.
Picking up directly after the success of “Once” propelled stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova — lovers onscreen and off — into an Oscar-fueled spotlight, “Swell Season” is the result of three years of footage by New York filmmakers Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis. The trio followed Hansard and Irglova on tour, capturing gorgeous black-and-white documentation of the effect extensive touring and fast fame had on their relationship, both professionally and romantically. The result is a charming and polished new entry into the music documentary corpus, and one sure to find considerable play at festivals beyond its Tribeca premiere.
“It’s sort of a funny New York tale,” Mirabella-Davis said at the Q&A that followed the film’s Monday night Tribeca screening. “I was teaching a film class and Glen was one of my students. It was right after the Oscar win and that’s how we met… We had this long discussion about life and art and terror and he said that he was embarking on this tour with Marketa. They were going to travel the canvas of America, the Czech Republic and Ireland. So I went back and met with Nick and Chris and we decided that this could be really interesting and unusual documentary. We pitched the idea to them, thankfully they said yes, and we traveled around with them for about three years.”
What they really came to capture was Hansard and Irglová’s struggle with their parallel lives: The life that they lead on a daily basis, and their life as understood by the public.
“The layers of reality intrigued us,” co-director Chris Dapkins said, “as something to incorporate into our film, and to handle as much as we could.”
This duality proved particularly difficult for Irglová, who was only 19 when “Once” won the Oscar. She slowly comes to realize a need to romantically break away from Hansard — 18 years her senior — in order to find herself. It’s quite remarkable how quietly the filmmakers document the unraveling. Not much is explicitly noted, as both Hansard and Irglová are both clearly introverted individuals in their private lives. But through some remarkable scenes of vulnerability, “Swell Season” admirably archives the demise of their romance — even if the filmmakers never intended that to be the case.
“We began the film, we thought it’d be this music doc following them and their creative process,” Mirabella-Davis said. “But as we filmed we sort of realized their relationship really became one of the central focuses. The movie started becoming more intimate and more personal and we started following that journey as closely as we possibly could.
“One of the reasons it took so long was getting them completely comfortable with the camera. The first year was difficult. They definitely noticed it. But by the second year, we just became like this three-headed houseplant. They didn’t even know we were there.”
“The Swell Season” screens again this Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival. Check out video from the Q&A here.