MUSIC: Breaking up is hard to do in ‘The Swell Season’Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová made beautiful music together as will-they-or-won’t-they indie folk-rock musicians in 2006’s Once. Fans connected to the sweet, earnest story of the older Irish busker and the young Czech immigrant pianist, and couldn’t help but notice that the film also captured the pair falling in love off screen as well.
And, as it happens, another set of cameras captured their story as they fell out of love, in the intimate and engaging documentary, The Swell Season.
After Once earned Hansard and Irglová an Academy Award for Best Original Song, the musicians formed their own band, the Swell Season, and took to the road, touring and toiling under their new-found fame. The film opens when the couple are still happy: silly, stripping down for a midday skinny dip into the ocean; posing for pictures and hanging out with fans; enjoying their time together.
But, as Hansard says, “It’s strangely prophetic. You’re singing songs about break-ups in a perfectly happy relationship, and you’re like, this isn’t about me. But then it happens.”
The cameras capture a series of moments that on their own wouldn’t signify the couple’s undoing. Strung together though, it’s like a series of stress fractures on a single bone: Irglová’s discomfort with the implied demands of fame; glimpses of Hansard’s depression as his father dies from alcoholism; the 18-year age gap between them as Irglová grows up and stops, in her own words, simply adopting Hansard’s opinions and starts developing her own. The narrative moves towards an inevitable conclusion, but it’s no less heartbreaking when we finally arrive at the five-minute long argument between the two that shows just how far they’ve grown apart.
But the filmmakers, wisely, err on the more hopeful side of bittersweet as the film draws to a close. The pair take to the stage in front of a theatre full of fans, and Irglová offers an earnest and charmingly awkward intro to a song about how sometimes love isn’t mean to be right now, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile or won’t be again. Hansard says, with a catch in his voice, that the breakup has brought them closer. Is it true? Well, who knows. But The Swell Season’s final moments — Hansard performs a solo on stage while Irglova watches from the wings, probably for the thousandth time, with an admiring and affectionate smile on her face — give us plenty of hope that this isn’t the end of the story.
The Swell Season plays at Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour), Fri-Sat 8:45pm; Sun, Tues 8:30pm. Tickets and info: VIFF.org.