The Swell Season poster
Watching the western Canada premiere of The Swell Season felt a bit like arriving at a party after all the introductions had been made.
In the documentary The Swell Season two musicians (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) travel around North American and Europe playing music, coping with fame, and trying to stay in love. When the movie was made Hansard was a 26-year veteran of the musical road (he started out when he was 13) but Irglova was only 18 years old and was just beginning her musical career.
In 2006 the couple starred in the low-budget movie, Once, that went on to win an Oscar, and make superstars of the musical duo. Somewhere along the line they fell in love. All this inspired three documentary filmmakers from New York to start filming Hansard and Irglova as they went on tour and struggled with their relationship. When the two sing together the communication is inspiring but off the stage it's real life with the added pressure of living in a bus and being famous. Since few of the couple's most soul-searching moments were filmed, and there was only one interview with each of them, it was sometimes difficult to figure out what point their relationship had reached and I couldn't help feeling that if I'd seen their first movie I might know more.
The Q & A with two of the directors (via Skype) that followed last Tuesday's screening of The Swell Season filled in some of the gaps for me and added a lot to my overall enjoyment of the movie and that, plus the passionate and original music and the memorable cinematography (it was shot in black and white) made for a great evening.
Later, when I watched the trailer for Once, in which Hansard plays an Irish musician/busker who falls in love with a Czech woman (Irglova), and saw Irglova dragging a vacuum around the streets of Dublin, I realized that I had seen the first, fictional movie and that I had made an emotional connection to the warm and humourous portrayal of misfits in love. On the other hand, The Swell Season kept it's distance and invited more analysis than connection, plus I kept wondering what had happened behind the scenes. One movie felt hot and the other felt cold.
Each movie stands up well on its own but together they create a unique opportunity to ponder the difference between fact and fiction and the varieties of truth to be found in each.