Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Once Lovers: The Swell Season

With all due respect to “Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s “Falling Slowly” from the film Once had to be the best Oscar winning song since Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft” took the honors in 1971. Perhaps because their characters were star-crossed ships passing in the night, fans invested special meaning in their off-screen musical and romantic relationships. Yet, the demands of success will tax those bonds in Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins & Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s documentary The Swell Season (trailer here), which the San Francisco Film Society presents for a one week run starting this Friday.

Known collectively as The Swell Season, Hansard and Irglová scored a respectable art-house hit with Once, but the Academy Awards took them to another level entirely. When Irglová wished “fair play to those who dare to dream” in her acceptance speech, even presenter Colin Farrell got choked up. Unfortunately, Seaison is not very diligent catching up viewers up with their lives pre-Once, focusing entirely on the time as established headliners.

Evidently, Irish expat Hansard was living with the somewhat younger Irglová’s Czech family when they began their relationship. Obviously, their courtship involved music, but that is about all the film cares to explain. Instead, it focuses the stresses and strains caused by the demands of fame and constant touring. Indeed, Season may distress the duo’s admirers, because it largely documents the potential dissolution of their romance. Whether their musical rapport is strong enough to endure those personal trials becomes the film’s central question.

Nonetheless, fans should still enjoy the tunes heard throughout Season, as well as some insightful interviews regarding their songwriting processes. Hansard and Irglová’s music typically features strikingly harmonized vocals and their musicianship is completely legit. Frankly, many of their songs are just as appropriate to the end of an affair as the hopeful beginning stages.

Shot by co-director-cinematographer Dapkins fly-on-the-wall style in glorious black-and-white, Season’s look is often reminiscent of U2 videos and documentaries, which is rather fitting. It also gives fans an opportunity to see the duo naked. They certainly look better than John Lennon and Yoko Ono, for what that is worth. There are some uncomfortable but memorable moments of truth shared by the couple, but it will ultimately be of much greater interest to devotees than general audiences. For most viewers, it is a passable diversion, but hardly essential. For Swell Season’s considerable fan base in the Bay Area, SFFS’s screenings start this Friday (11/25) at the New People Cinema.