Movie review: 'The Swell Season'

New documentary looks at the charming singers behind the great 2006 movie 'Once' Photo: Elkcreek Cinema

DENVER, June 17, 2011 — Audiences watched Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova fall in love on screen in the 2006 Irish charmer “Once.” What they didn’t know at the time was the duo were starting to make beautiful music together off screen as well.

“The Swell Season,” the new documentary which opens the Silverdocs film festival June 20, catches Hansard and Irglova slowly, irreparably falling out of love while on the road. The collapse is as delicate as one of Irglova’s harmonies.

The Swell Season

The Swell Season

You have to squint to see the fizzure developing between the duo. What’s missing are other elements to bridge the entertainment gap. “The Swell Season” is stingy on showing the duo’s best musical moments, and there aren’t enough pop star theatrics to balance the sense of quiet doom blossoming between them.

The film’s narrative sneaks up on you, something co-directors Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis clearly intended. But we never get close enough to the main players.

The team behind The Swell Season, the name the duo chose for their joined musical project, carry on matter of factly through their lengthy post-”Once” tour.

Marketa tells how she met Glen as a teen girl, but by the time she came of age she fell in love with him. One can question the details of their initial courtship, but it’s hard to argue when they take the stage together.

Fans ask them for hugs and autographs in their post-“Once” existence.  Hansard obliges while Irglova bristles. The film catapulted Hansard into the spotlight after years of playing with his band, The Frames. So he stood ready to process the adulation. The much younger Irglova finds success unnerving. Why are these strangers asking to have their pictures taken with her? She’s not a celebrity, she says.

That’s merely the start of the couple’s woes.

The documentary, shot in lush black and white, captures how the two feed off each other creatively. Their union made Hansard’s music blaze with possibility. He recalls writing entire songs within a few hours thanks to her inspiration and guidance.

The most affective moments come when Hansard sits down with his mother, a woman who can’t read enough headlines about her famous son. The singer’s father, a former boxer who turned to the bottle early in life, is too absorbed by his own demons to give Hansard much support.

It’s hard not to both applaud and curse the restraint shown throughout “The Swell Season.” Why the duo agreed to the documentary is another matter. They both appear intensely private people, hardly the type to welcome an intrusive camera crew into their lives.

They’re a far cry from The Kardashian clan over at E!.

But watching “The Swell Season” makes one appreciate the duo’s personal integrity as much as their music.

Christian Toto is a veteran journalist and film critic whose work appears in The Denver Post, Box Office Magazine and His movie reviews are heard on WTOP radio and “The Dennis Miller Show,” and he blogs on film at What Would Toto Watch? Read more of Christian’s work at Movies in Toto in the Communities at the Washington Times. You can also follow him on Twitter.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Christian Toto

Christian Toto is a freelance entertainment reporter and film critic with more than a decade of experience in daily newspapers, magazines and the Web. He currently reports for The Washington Times,, The Denver Post, Denver Magazine, MovieMaker Magazine,, and Big Hollywood. His radio commentaries can be heard on WTOP in Washington, D.C. and 94.5 Country in Topeka, Kansas. He is the official film critic for “The Dennis Miller Show" heard nationwide on Westwood One stations. He regularly blogs about film at What Would Toto Watch? and the Denver Film Community Examiner site. He is a member of both the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association and the Denver Film Critics Society. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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