Song of Granite
Directed by Pat Collins
The life story of traditional Irish folk singer Joe Heaney, who is estimated to have recorded in excess of 500 traditional Irish sean nós ('old style') songs. Heaney moved from Ireland to the UK, and then on to New York City, where he settled shortly after performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
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★★★★★ review by Barlayne Fletcher on Letterboxd
Viewed at SXSW
An intimate yet distant portrait of a dying culture. Beauty reflected not through knowledge, but through emotions. Mythology and reality intimately dance with one another in a slow, sure waltz. A black and white world, where truth is scarce and isolation is always in stock. Cinematography is the best I've seen all year, with long takes reminiscent of Haneke or P. T. Anderson, bringing levels of authenticity and atmosphere that's unparalleled by anything else I've seen all year. The editing is phenomenal as well, weaving a seamless tapestry of a man's journey through the world. Everything is so well made, so well put together, yet still so emotionally resonant that it seems like a vision from another world. Truly magical.
★★★★½ review by Philip Bagnall on Letterboxd
This retelling of the life of sean-nós singer Joe Heaney pisses on biopic convention from the heighest height. Cinematography, editing and music reflect Collins’ methodology: all pristine, but never exploited or overused. A film about the little moments between possible dramas, told with confidence and absolute control.
The finest Irish film this century? B’fhéidir
★★★★★ review by APD55 on Letterboxd
This film is an immersive experience for the visual and sonic senses. With stunning presentations of wild Irish landscapes and a moody, slow paced atmosphere, the film is a form of bio-pic that is unlike any I've seen before. The life of singer Joe Heaney was difficult but the movie avoids the cliches and sentimentality to explore the deep roots of song and collective consciousness that seemed to drive the man to explore both the outer world and his inner life.
Rather than document the facts, the movie uses three actors for Joe at different stages of life, and spends time with each to give you a composite of his existence through time. By the end, this leaves you asking for details of the singer's life but never doubting the depth of his feelings for old poetic verse and the ties that bind humanity. In so doing, the music in the film highlights a universality of expression that is found in the unaccompanied vocal tradition.
The are few comparisons one can make, the movie is so original and moving that it renews your faith in film-making as an art. It's a treasure.
★★★★ review by Maria Crowe on Letterboxd
A film that felt like an attempt at Irish Neo-Realism. It had many form shifts throughout certainly something different. Beautifully shot. A gift for the ears.
A biopic of an old Ireland dead and gone.
★★★★½ review by Naoise MacGowan on Letterboxd
'Song of Granite' is an absolute triumph of modern Irish cinema. From a country who's cultural emphasis seems to be almost entirely dedicated to showing how bad the Brits are, and occasionally paying tribute to a dead language, Pat Collins' has revitalized the spirit of Éire in only 104mins.
On the face of it a black & white biopic about the 1950s seanós singer Joe Heaney doesn't exactly sound all that fresh. Added on the fact that it is as Gaeilge. Yet Collins actually uses this to his advantage. The film is a heart on its sleeve loveletter to Ireland. It's dripping in spirit and that unique Irish authenticity. The Irish culture found here runs rings around the half attempts you'll see in Cáca Milis and other Irish productions.
The film is not only a fascinating portrait of the broken soul Joe Heaney, it's an investigation on what it means to be an artist. The seanós hero was arguably a prick; leaving his family and becoming an alcoholic, yet in Song of Granite I deeply sympathize with him. The film dives into the great conflict all true artists go through; choosing the real empirical world of society, or the lonely spiritual world of self expression.
In one awe-inspiring scene, Heaney, performed wholeheartedly by O'Chonfhlaola, vividly describes the utter loneliness he feels while singing. The scene epitomizing the psychological focus that the film hones in so well. Countless shots demonstrate this isolation, purely visually. Slotting Heaney in distinct frames in the natural background of the film. Usually lost in an endless pastoral landscape.
Collins, in making a powerful Irish classic, has looked deep inside himself for this. Not only analyzing Ireland's vanishing culture, but also what it is to bring it back. Through its symbolic cinematography, earnest performances and bona fide direction, Song of Granite is a glorious work reminding us of the raw authenticity that only our Hibernia can offer. It is undoubtedly my favourite film of the year.
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