Review: In ‘Song of Granite,’ Fragments of an Irish Folk Singer’s Life

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Micheal O Chonfhaola in “Song of Granite.” Credit Oscilloscope

“When you’re focused on it, when you’re in the emotion of the song, you won’t hear or see anything else around you,” says Joe Heaney, played at that point by Micheal O Chonfhaola, in “Song of Granite,” an impressionistic portrait of the Irish folk singer. Mr. Heaney was recognized as a master of sean nos (old style) music, a traditional Gaelic variety of a cappella.

He was also an enigmatic figure, according to the film’s director Pat Collins, and “Song of Granite” seems to mirror what the character says about singing. As long as it does right by the music — of which there is plenty — everything else can be a fog.

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Trailer: ‘Song of Granite’

A preview of the film.

By OSCILLOSCOPE LABORATORIES on Publish Date November 14, 2017. Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive. Watch in Times Video »

Shot in black-and-white, the movie tries to shake off the biopic doldrums, employing a fragmented structure that emphasizes isolated moments instead of a narrative arc. It also includes snippets of the actual Mr. Heaney talking or in performance. But Mr. Collins doesn’t shed light on what makes his subject tick, and the arty shards never cohere.

Mr. Collins has cast real singers. Mr. Heaney is played as a boy by the poised Colm Seoighe, then as a haunted, noirish figure by Mr. O Chonfhaola. The character actor Macdara O Fatharta plays him as an older man. The first movement, observing the young Mr. Heaney as he absorbs Irish folk culture in County Galway, is the best and most accessible, before Mr. Heaney goes into moody exile in Britain and New York.

Offering scant commentary on the music, “Song of Granite” will appeal more to enthusiasts than to newcomers.

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