SONGS OF GRANITE
Directed by Pat Collins. Starring Michael O’Chonfhlaola, Macdara Ó Fátharta, Colm Seoighe. 104 mins.
In cinemas December 8
HAUNTING BIOPIC OF SEAN NOS SINGER JOE HEANEY IS A SUMPUTUOUS SENSORY EXPERIENCE
Nominated as Ireland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards, Pat Collins’ soulful, austere and experimental biopic about sean nos singer Joe Heaney is a sensual film, in the purest sense. Songs Of Granite is shot in beautifully textured monochrome, and eschews chronology, convention and often context for a more fleeting, haunting collection of impressions that evoke a dusted-off memory being retold, or a ballad being sung where the lyrics are more emotional than explanatory.
Collins casts three different actors to play Heaney at different stages of his life; as a young boy growing up in poverty-stricken Connemara (Colm Seoighe), as a labourer in Glasgow (Michael O’Chonfhlaola), and as an older man, looking back over his life (Macdara Ó Fátharta). All of the actors impress both through their expressions and powerful singing, which becomes the way we understand Heaney – an isolated, almost unknowable individual. Seoige shows how a young Heaney was too shy to share his voice for years, and had to be implored to do so, while O’Chonfhlaola has a strikingly gaunt face that hints at the complex and troubled inner life that led Heaney to abandon a wife and family and move to America.
While grainy archive footage of Heaney does appear throughout, Collins’ focus is on creating an interwoven filmic texture between his three timelines, one that captures the unique beauty of sean nos and the places Heaney shared it. Shooting in intimate firelit Irish pubs, and juxtaposing the serene traditional songs with the urban cityscape when Heaney moves to New York, Songs Of Granite is less a biography than a solemn, elegiac tale of the Irish diaspora, clinging to traditions even as they leave.