Song of Granite review Micheal O ConfhaolaYear: 2017
Director(s): Pat Collins
Writer(s): Pat Collins, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde, Sharon Whooley
Region of Origin: Ireland

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: n/a
Black and white, 104 mins

Synopsis: The life and times of legendary Irish folk singer, Joe Heaney. (Source)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a biopic as rich and evocative as Pat Collins’ Song of Granite. Based on the life of legendary folk singer Joe Heaney, Collins’ film couldn’t be further from the Oscar bait that usually pervades the genre, letting the music speak first and foremost, rather than a chameleon-like, heavily costumed performance. Since the music shines, Collin’s moody portrait transforms into a meditative look at time, restlessness and grace. Even if you’re not familiar with Heaney’s work (which this reviewer is guilty of), the film still boasts a succession of sean-nos performances, complimenting a stripped down plot that’s more a sensory experience than a narrative, but never less than beautiful.

In the best way, Collins’ film isn’t one that merely takes us from point a to b. Sure, the film kicks off with Heaney as a young boy, but the structure soon splinters into non-linear fashion, with the singer looking back at the pivotal ideas and events that shaped his life. In this way, the film feels like a pure mixture of myth and memory, with neurons firing towards both fleeting moments of trauma and comfort in ways that highlight the unpredictability of life. Through this fantastic framework, we don’t see a life that feels limited or finite, but are immersed into the boundless possibilities of what might’ve been and what is yet to live on in song.

Complimenting the music, Collins makes full use of striking visuals, steeped in deep monochromatic contrast and finding poetry through the Irish countryside to capture a shifting time and place. Collins mirrors Heaney’s soul through his surroundings, which feels wondrously alien and separated from the rest of the world. This isolationism says more than any expositional narrative could, and if Terrence Malick himself did a musical, it might look and sound something like this. Gaps in a stone wall capture a fortified, yet tenuous mindset, rivers snake through peaceful valleys like escaping time and roads stretch as far as the mind can wander. All of this is stitched together with Gaelic lyrics and spoken word which hover over everything with solemn reflection and understated fortitude.

Song of Granite review Macdara O FathartaA triptych of performances synthesize to create Heaney, creating a complex, nuanced portrayal of the singer. From Colm Seoighe’s young Joe, to Micheal O Chonfhaola middle-aged Joe and Macdara O Fatharta’s late Joe, each actor stands on their own but still cohere into a single whole. Since the film doesn’t operate by traditional terms, these three bring their characters to life mostly without dialogue, using subtle physicality, wayward stares and finally musical performance to say what mere words can’t.

Song of Granite is powerfully original and unique, blending doc-like realism with dreamlike yearning. By putting the music front and center, Collins finds a universal language that carries the melancholy and strength of heritage, as well as a ray of light for the future. Through this, Collins shows us how a life can’t be contained by time or place, resulting in a film that burrows into our consciousness and lives on beyond its runtime.