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"The Swell Season": Jumbled Story of Two Musicians' Angst is Dully Banal 

Wednesday, Nov 23 2011

This tour doc — shot in moody, close-up-heavy black-and-white — traces a few years on the road with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, real-life musical collaborators in the band The Swell Season who starred in the 2007 Irish indie musical hit Once, won an Oscar for writing its music, fell in love while making the film, and broke up while touring America in its aftermath. Once's unlikely success and the ensuing May-December relationship between Irglová (who was 17 when the film was shot) and world-weary, fortyish Hansard created the marketable myth of a creative partnership leading to true love, which made an apparently never-ending American tour possible. The Swell Season documents that myth's undoing — a dissolution that almost necessarily remains hidden from the fans drawn to the band's shows by Hansard and Irglová's rags-to-riches-plus-romance fairy tale. (An autograph hound gushes, "I hope you guys make it to the end of time!") Exceedingly nonlinear, the film is a jumble of fragments — performances, vérité footage backstage, a few contextualizing interviews — each offering real-world evidence to puncture a fan's fantasy version of Hansard and Irglová as lovers meant to beat the odds. For those fans, The Swell Season might seem like a bittersweet revelation, proof that these stars are, in the sheer banality of their everyday angst, just like us. (Although their ability to continue the professional relationship after the romance ends seems superhuman.) But to viewers without a preexisting emotional relationship to the couple and their saga, that everyday angst is just banal.

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Karina Longworth

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