Song of Granite
Often, one doesn’t pay attention to a country until a piece of art explains their culture. Norway gave birth to Bergman, Scotland slapped the English with Irvine Welsh, and Ireland provided Joyce and Yeats and Seamus Heaney. Documentary filmmaker Pat Collins attempts to join them with his unconventional, modernist biopic on sean-nós singer Joe Heaney (or Seosamh Ó hÉanaí in the original Gaelic), exploring three important stages in his life.
Despite the symphonic intentions, story and character are suppressed. We have the figure of Joe, drifting from generation to generation (using a Woolfish, stream-of-consciousness structure), with DP Richard Kendrick delighting the viewer’s eyes with strong, beautiful, black-and-white cinematography. But there’s no conflict, nothing to entice an interest in Joe Heaney as a person.
Key events in the singer’s life (his father suddenly disappearing, his wife’s death from tuberculosis) are briefly felt but abandoned for pretty pictures and folky interludes. Collins tries to wash the audience in deep-rooted Irish culture to inflate their understanding and even allow them to become a part of it. But we’re more interested in him than the backdrop. Every time the viewer comes close to the character, Collins pushes them away.
The winning performance out of the three Joes belongs to Colm Seoighe (playing the younger Heaney), who is given more than the stares into the distance belonging to his future selves. However, the fragility of Joe Heaney is carried into his grown-up portrayals – most intensely by Michael O’Chonfhlaola. It’s a subtle but alluring consistency, a window into his personality. But Collins and co-writers Sharon Whooley and Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride didn’t feel it was important enough to expand on.
Song of Granite is beautiful, but Collins misfocuses his efforts. His formalist tendencies intrude upon Heaney’s story, leaving his character stranded. The visuals are a sensory experience in their own right, comparable to Gregg Toland’s work on Citizen Kane. But, as Ireland’s submission for the Foreign Film category in the next Academy Awards, Song of Granite won’t get far.
Song of Granite is released in selected cinemas on 15th December 2017.
Watch the trailer for Song of Granite here: