Patient poignance in Pat Collins’ That They May Face the Rising Sun

Director: Pat Collins Starring: Barry Ward, Anna Bederke, Lalor Roddy, Ruth McCabe, Phillip Dolan, Sean McGinley Running Time: 111 minutes

As Ireland’s cinematic reputation rises internationally into awards darlings and sexy superstars, it’s important to remember where we’ve come from. Both from the talented filmmakers who spent their time in the pre-Element trenches, and for our rich tradition in the arts and literature. That tradition can risk being undermined at both ends, either written off as old-fashioned, or sealed up and sanded down through idolised eyes; idyllic Ireland only, the big names that speak loudest to tourists. Masterful as he is, Pat Collins in his latest feature avoids all these pitfalls, adapting Irish literature to the screen with a sensationally steady hand. Sentimental but genuine, nostalgic but reflective, That They May Face the Rising Sun is an enriching experience.

Guiding a focused cast of Irish acting veterans through the final work of novelist John McGahern, the directorial approach of West Cork’s Collins is perfect for the material. As in great films like Silence and Song of Granite, his eye for detail, patient pacing and richly revealed characters come through greatly in this year in the life in the quiet Connacht countryside.

Writer Joe Ruttledge (Barry Ward) revels in the solitude and routine of an aging country community. So too does his wife, artist Kate (Anna Bederke); having left London’s hectic tempos, they find room to breath tending to an old farm. They get closer together, they have the headspace to actually do the work, and they entertain and are entertained alike by the area’s local characters. The passage of time is marked by who drops in for a visit, by what work needs doing, what work is never going to get round to getting done. An offer for Kate to return to her London gallery is as high as the stakes get, and yet what could be higher: what is the good life and how do you know when you have it? Joe and Kate’s older friends offer answers even when they don’t see them themselves.

Collins finds wonderful rhythms in McGahern’s work, he and fellow screenwriter Eamon Little relishing all the humours, ignorance, poetry and bile in Irish conversation. The actors have a ball with the material, Roddy in particular bouncing between warm wisdom, casual cruelty, thoughtful thoughtlessness, all played at the same pitch. Ward has a job that could be thankless in playing Joe’s endless patience, but he keeps it warm with just the right amount of push back, a self-assured steel. In Ward and Anna Bederke’s work on the conversations about moving between Kate and Joe, they make it real, lived-in and empathetic without ever raising their voices. Irish greats like Ruth McCabe and Sean McGinley bring out decades of history in their characters with the subtlest of gestures.

The views of the countryside may be familiarly idyllic; excellent sound design brings them to life – the quiet prized by Kate and Joe, which the locals roll their eyes at, all bird song and bug buzz. Montages capture memories – like in An Cailín Ciúin, they capture the little things – tactile, fleeting, everything. A director who knows the value of these magic melancholy moments is a great thing, one that can bring them out as well as Collins does is exceptional and enviable.

In sweet and steady rhythms That They May Face the Rising Sun, its lovely flow of language and slow flow of life, show great creatives like McGahern, Collins and his crew drawing from their experience, their empathy and their curiosity to create a reflection as beautiful as what you might find in the lake Joe and Kate’s farm overlooks. Loss and regret and missed opportunities are all woven through this year in the life but on balance they can’t dampen the mood – when the dead face the sun they’re safe that’ll it’ll always shine on them again, as it does often and exceptionally in this glowing spiel.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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