Film Review: ‘Song of Granite’ Is an Overlong but Beautiful Ode to Ireland

This year’s Foreign Language Oscar race features no shortage of biopics, but none are quite like Pat Collins’Song of Granite.” On the surface, this uniquely musical drama chronicles the life of singer Joe Heaney. But more memorable, it is a love letter to Ireland. It’s no surprise then that this beautiful film was selected as their official Oscar submission.

Joe Heaney was a traditional Irish singer who came to fame around the mid-20th century. He grew up in the rural town of Connemara, where he was inspired by the natural landscape and the rich oral tradition of the people. Through the fables and folk songs he learned as a child, he began to craft his personal artistry. As his ambitions grew, however, he decided to leave his hometown and his family. But when he eventually settles abroad, he can’t help but feel regret for leaving behind the people and the land that shaped him.

Indeed, a feeling of longing pervades throughout “Song of Granite” as the film lovingly reminisces on Heaney’s upbringing and subsequent success. The first thing that strikes you is the film’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Through cinematographer’s immaculate shot compositions, there is a grandeur to the vistas of mountains, fields, and rivers. The images are truly stunning at times, worthy of being framed on a wall.

The film’s most compelling moments take place behind closed doors, however. Namely, the rich Irish culture comes alive in the pub, where locals gather to sing, drink and dance. In these moments, it’s easy to understand the impact that folk music had on Heaney, as the film treats us to uninterrupted, rapturous arias by men and women alike.

We may not understand the lyrics, but these standout musical scenes affectingly translate a strong sense of community, national pride and history that seems identifiably Irish. Indeed, John Crowley explored the same sentiments to similarly enchanting effect in 2015’s “Brooklyn.” Like Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis, the possibilities of foreign shores beckon for Heaney. But in the end, there’s no place like home.

Unfortunately, Pat Collins – who co-wrote the script with Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde and Sharon Whooley – is no Nick Hornby. As such, the storytelling lacks the same intrigue. In trying to chart Heaney’s life journey with minimal dialogue, the film becomes caught uncomfortably between a “cradle to grave” biopic and an atmospheric tone poem. Like a rambling, drunk Irishman, “Song of Granite” therefore begins to outstay its welcome. But until then, it’s an undeniable beauty.

“Song of Granite” opens in select theaters November 15.

GRADE: (★★½)

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MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |