Following the success Once and the ensuing buzz surrounding the featured pair, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are at a crossroads. While not a documentary by any means, Once essentially served as a starting point for the pair's relationship. The Swell Season picks up with the pair--with the members of The Frames (Hansard's band since 1990) in tow--kindling the flames of a burgeoning romance while touring between their Swell Season album and going into the studio to record Strict Joy.
Very much in love as the film opens, the pair seem great for each other. The disparity in age doesn't seem to impede their romance. Theirs is a cute and genuine love story.
As fame takes them hurtling into the stratosphere, the pressure to meet external expectations, the disparate notions as to what they both want from their musical careers, and the different stages they are at in their lives begin to tear apart the fabric of their relationship.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of all of this is that for all intents and purposes, the course that Irglova and Hansard's relationship takes has largely been caught on film. While Once was not technically a document of real life, it does sort of serve as a metaphor for the first five or six years that they knew each other, an innocently collaborative period peppered with a little sexual tension but a tension upon which neither of them act.
The Swell Season is a document of their actual relationship. It is deeply personal, with much of the film really making the viewer feel like he or she is a fly on the wall. Souls are bared. Warts are shown. Their love for one another is evident. Their frustration with one another is palpable.
Where Once excelled with a previously unparalleled ease was in how organically the crafting of the song was committed to celluloid. The Swell Season picks right up where Once left off but also lets the audience in on the couple's honeymoon period and the ensuing struggle to make things work as fame, touring, recording, and life do what they can to pull the pair apart. More importantly, it is both compelling and endearing throughout.
There aren't many music documentaries wherein this level of candor and access is present. Hansard and Irglova are already a fascinating pair, but the film shows the pair at one of their most vulnerable and tracks the course of their relationship with frank affection. The end product is astounding.