In a scene towards the end of the musical film Once, after the recording studio session, the two fictional characters “falling slowly” in love with each other and aspiring to work together have this conversation:
Guy: Come on away to London with me! We’ll write loads of songs and live in a nice flat […] We’ll have a brilliant band. We’ll sell out places. It’ll be great!
Girl: And we’ll make an album together […] I’ll do the backing vocals on it.
Guy: Yeah, and play the piano. Come on, I’m serious.
The story of Once (2007) is well documented at this stage. Filmed around various Dublin locations with handheld cameras, the musical film chronicles the budding friendship between an unnamed busker (Irish singer songwriter and The Frames frontman Glen Hansard) and an unnamed flower seller (Czech-born singer songwriter Markéta Irglová) over the course of a week.
The lyrics of the songs the two characters rehearse and perform reveal their inner feelings and fuel the narrative. And as life often imitates art, the on-screen relationship soon evolved into a real one between Hansard and Irglová.
Shot on a shoestring budget over a period of 17 days, John Carney’s film turned into one of the most successful independent releases in recent history. A warm and touching story led by two outstanding artists and songwriters, Once was a surprise hit at various festivals worldwide, earning the film an Oscar for best original song in 2008. A musical stage adaptation premiered on Broadway in 2012 and won 8 Tony Awards. The show then premiered in Dublin and West End in 2013 and is still touring today.
The Swell Season
The aspirational collaboration between the characters of the film also materialised in real life. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová were already long-time friends and their artistic collaboration started in late 2005, before Once started shooting. While on a break from touring with The Frames, Hansard and Irglová recorded an almost impromptu and rough-mixed duet album (The Swell Season) in the Czech Republic which included previously released Frames songs as well as new originals. Four songs from that album were used on the Once soundtrack.
From 2008 onwards, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová started touring under The Swell Season name and in 2009, the pair released their second album Strict Joy on the ANTI record label. Backed by a full band and a string section on some songs, Strict Joy is a beautiful collection of tense and soulful ballads with fantastic harmonies such as the Irglová-led “Fantasy Man” in an acoustic version here:
The Swell Season documentary
At the request of Glen Hansard, three young American directors followed the duo as they embarked on their post-Oscar world tour between 2008 and 2010. Beautifully shot in black and white, the documentary sees internal tension and the constant pressure brought on the couple’s newly-found celebrity status take its toll on the relationship as the months go by.
Directed by Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, The Swell Season documentary was released in 2011 in the United States and is finally getting an Irish release on Friday 6th December 2013.
But fuelled by two years of exhilaration, performance, and psychological turmoil, The Swell Season is much more than a music documentary. It is a volatile and intimate portrait of a romance that fractures in the face of life on the road and personal tragedy. As Glen and Markéta’s relationship unhinges, ultimately music prevails as their enduring connection. Suzanne Murray – Wildcard Distribution.