I am embarrassed to confess that, after watching the 2007 Oscar-winning Irish musical Once, my optimism and giddiness towards the prospects of love were matched only by that of a Barbie-wielding ten-year-old girl. Not only does Once tell an achingly beautiful love story about a street musician and Czech immigrant, but its two lead actors, the musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, also fell in love during the production of the film. The chemistry between their two characters feels so real because, well, it is real. I no longer had to subject myself to that three-hour romantic schmaltz fest that is Titanic to get my fix of fairy tale romance. By Jove, true love does exist and the evidence can be found forever embedded in the film strips of Once.
The Swell Season, a musical documentary follow up to Once, could have only been shot in black and white. Detailing the breakdown of Hansard and Irglová’s relationship after the unexpected success of their indie musical, The Swell Season is a harsh reality check, a blurry-eyed hangover following the delirious romanticism of Once. Whereas Once boasted gorgeous imagery of the rolling Irish landscape and the bustling city of Dublin, like any breakup, there is nothing pretty about The Swell Season.
“You wanted this. You can’t say you didn’t want this,” Irglová scolds Hansard at one point in the film’s trailer. She’s got a point. Hansard looked positively ecstatic on stage at the 2008 Oscars where he received his statuette for co-writing the brilliant song “Falling Slowly.” And reasonably so- what musician does not want his music to be appreciated?
However, I think Hansard’s existential crisis that is hinted at in the trailer for The Swell Season extends much further in scope than a mere rejection of the popularity that he suddenly accrued. Movie stars pay thousands of dollars to publicists each year in an attempt to separate their public persona from their private lives. In Hansard and Irglová’s case, their private lives are their public personas. The popularity of Once can partly be attributed to our obsession with the possibility of true love. Stripped away were the excesses of epic plot devices, spectacular visual effects, and corny dialogue, allowing us to get a glimpse into a “real” love story.
But this obsession with a fairy tale love may have been a catalyst in the destruction of Hansard and Irglová’s relationship. I can only imagine how frustrating it is to live your life like you are in The Truman Show. Sure, the documentary can be an enlightening and entertaining film medium, but at what cost to those individuals being documented?
After watching The Swell Season‘s trailer, I’m not sure I can rewatch Once with the same naïvety and bubbling optimism that accompanied my first few watches. Hansard and Irglová’s romance is no longer perfectly frozen in time like that of Jack and Rose. Theirs is a cautionary tale- a reminder that cinema is an art of manipulation and a puppeteer of the viewer’s heartstrings.
By: AJ Serrano
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