Wednesday, April 17, 2024

That They May Face The Rising Sun – rural rites and a sensory thrill (QFT from Thursday 25 April)

An author and an artist relocated from London to rural Country Galway a few years ago. Middle-aged but younger than average, they are seen as useful newcomers. But they’ll probably always be classed as blow-ins, “a pair who came in against the tide”.

Joe (played by Barry Ward) in particular has an outsider’s perspective, looking under the placid surface of the seemingly idyllic, slow-paced farming community to see the quiet turmoil and unspoken secrets that are at play, even a spot of forbidden love. Friendships can be severed in a sentence, and restoration could take months of patience.

As Joe observes and takes inspiration from those around him for his new book, Kate (Anna Bedeke) is unexpectedly beckoned back to the bright artistic lights of London. Which way should any of them face to truly feel at home?

That They May Face The Rising Sun is character-driven. The people are the story rather than the rites of the harvest, weddings or wakes. The passing seasons may alter the temperature and the landscape’s palette, but no character will ever veer too far from their thran, opinionated and often philosophical way. While Lalor Roddy’s Patrick steals scenes as a hard-to-pin-down handyman, and Brendan Conroy’s Bill provides a glimpse of the moral undertones that persevered even in 1980’s rural Ireland – while religious rituals are often mentioned there’s no priest to be seen – it’s another outsider, Jamesie’s brother Johnny (Sean McGinley), who returns home at intervals from England and unlocks the audience’s understanding of the community’s finely tuned sense of what it means to belong.

The cinematography lingers on people’s reactions to what is being said rather than watching the person speaking. We’re like Joe, sizing up the rustic personalities who flit in and out of the couple’s farmhouse as if they owned it. But Joe and Kate couldn’t manage the farm without every bit of help and advice they can garner. Even if they’re unpaid caterers, chaplains and caregivers for half the neighbourhood.

Hats off to Bob Brennan, Wayne Brooks and a myriad of other creatives in the background for capturing and editing together such a vivid – and loud – soundscape that brings every action to life. Not only the sound of cutlery banging harshly on the melamine crockery, but the buzzing bees, the wind rustling the leafy branches, the car with a trailer in a distance coming down the lane. Combined with Irene and Linda Buckley’s melancholic piano score – beautifully played by Ruth McGinley – experiencing Pat Collins’ film is a sensory thrill with much to stimulate even before you take in Richard Kendrick’s visuals.

With a screenplay by Eamon Little and Pat Collins, the film takes its inspiration from John McGahern’s sixth and final novel, relocating the action from Leitrim to Galway, and thinning out the cast of characters (though you’d be forgiven for not believing they’d lost anyone the adaptation). Though given the older age bracket, women are few and far between in the panoply of well-drawn individuals.

That They May Face the Rising Sun is being shown at Queen’s Film Theatre from Thursday 25 April. The 18:00 screening on Friday 26 will be followed by a Q&A with director Pat Collins.

Sit back, relax and enjoy a slower way of life.

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