Magazine article Screen International

'Song of Granite': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Song of Granite': Review

Article excerpt

Strikingly beautiful, Pat Collins' unconventional portrait of a traditional sean nós singer is shot mostly in the Irish language.

Dir. Pat Collins. Ireland/Canada 2017, 98 mins.

In an era of safe film-making, even - or especially - within the art-house sector, it's rare to view a title as formally audacious as Song of Granite, the latest from director Pat Collins and a thematic extension of his 2012 film Silence. Shot in black-and-white and mostly in the Irish language, this is a soulful, austere piece of auteur film-making which shirks narrative convention for a story told through haunting sound and fleeting impressions. Layering the life of Irish folk singer Joe Heaney through a flickering lens and leaning on the natural, unadorned voice of the sean nos [old style] singer, this doc/feature hybrid film isn't perfect, but it is quite perfectly-made.

There's a stirring song of the exile here for those attuned to Pat Collins' hymn

Collins' decision to shoot in monochrome, particularly with opening images of the far West of Ireland in the 1940s, immediately and no doubt purposefully recalls the neorealist movement, and Song of Granite can also verge on the ethnographic in its approach. Audiences will naturally be limited as a result, yet this should play well on the festival circuit following its SXSW launch, with additional interest from museums and music-related events. Those who responded well to recent features by Ben Rivers, or to Notes on Blindness, might hop on board. Picked up by Soda for the UK, this is set for release in Ireland through Wildcard, which handled The Young Offenders last year, and the US/Canada through Soda. The Irish diaspora, particularly in the US where Heaney was feted towards the end of his life, should warmly embrace a wholly unique, if obstinately oblique picture.

Collins first settles his camera in Heaney's birthplace of Carna in county Galway - a remote part of Ireland known the Gaeltacht where Irish is spoken (though, as the film notes, English is used at the schoolhouse to teach Catholic dogma). Heaney, shown here as a schoolboy, will eventually move on, but Richard Kendick's camera will never feel so rooted or steady again as it is in the Connemara landscape, surveying its defiant wildness and the rough, basic cottages of a population which ekes a living from fishing and potato farming, digging peat from the bog for fuel. …

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