John Carney’s much-loved film “Once” is the gift that keeps on giving.
The 2007 indie romantic drama that was shot in the space of three weeks in downtown Dublin on a budget that barely hit six figures (five if you convert to Euros) beat the competition to win Oscar for Best Song in 2008 with “Falling Slowly.” The film then enjoyed a vibrant second life on DVD in the years that followed. Next month, the film will morph into an Off-Broadway stage production that will likely reach the Great White Way in the New Year.
In the interim, fans who can’t get enough of the on-screen romance between a depressed Dublin vacuum cleaner repairman and a lonely Czech flower girl can look forward to “The Swell Season,” a documentary of the real-life love that blossomed off-screen between the film’s two stars: Frames frontman Glen Hansard and pianist Marketa Irglova. And for diehard Frames fans who have had just about enough of Hansard’s mushy kissy stuff and want the old Glen back, the same doc covers the withering of that self-same romance, as a gruelling tour of the U.S. takes its toll and the pair split to become just good friends. So there’s something for everybody.
Following the success of “Once”, Hansard stepped aside from his duties as leader of the Frames to compose, perform and tour with Marketa as a duo. Taking their band name from a favourite novel of Hansard’s, “The Swell Season” by Czech author Josef Skvorecky, the two musicians capitalized on their Oscar triumph to perform throughout the U.S. and Europe, and release three albums together. The film of the same name chronicles, in sparkling black and white, the rise and fall of this short-lived pairing, as Hansard’s playing Henry Higgins to Marketa’s Eliza Doolittle at the outset quickly inverts to find her playing Gertrude Higgins to his Paul McCartney.
The film is as intimate as if the viewers are squashed in at the next twofer table over, eavesdroppping on Glen and Marketa in a crowded Czech café — and a lot of the time, we are. The film confronts the delicate issue of romance between a teenage girl and a man twice her age, a friend of her parents whom she had known since was a 13-year-old music student.
The camera catches emotionally loaded moments in the Hansard household, as Glen tries to connect with his ailing father, a difficult and distant ex-boxer who drank himself to death during the timeframe in which the documentary was made. Hansard, an appealing and much-loved performer in Ireland for more than two decades, comes across as a true artist who lives for his music and genuinely felt he had found his muse in the introverted Czech songstress. Marketa, for her part, is no less genuine, and her vulnerability in the spotlight as she struggles with a celebrity life for which she is ill-prepared, is very real. Her solo passages on piano during the Swell Season tour take the performances into a regrettably charisma-free zone, and it will be interesting to see how she fares on the road without Glen to boost the energy levels onstage.
Cynics will wonder how Glen will know what he is doing wrong on tour without her frequent nagging, but romantics can enjoy the upside of their love when “The Swell Season” opens this Friday, October 21, in New York at Cinema Village and reRun Gastropub Theater.