It’s unclear whether it’s pure coincidence that the number plate of the battered Ford belonging to the central couple of Pat Collins‘ lyrical drama contains the letters OZU. There is much rich detail and ineffable patience in That They May Face the Rising Sun that recalls the Japanese master of Tokyo Story and Late Spring renown. A slow steeping in the rhythms and rituals of a community in the rural Ireland of the 1980s, what Collins’ adaptation of John McGahern‘s final novel lacks in incident it more than makes up for in rich character and a gruff, earthy compassion.

Joe and Kate Ruttledge (Barry Ward and Anna Bederke) have relocated from London to the countryside community of Joe’s upbringing. While it’s taken a while for the village to welcome the prodigal son back into the fold and embrace his European wife – her origin is never specified – the couple are now part of the warp and weft of the community fabric; their table rarely empty of a local character visiting for a tea, a smoke, a dram, a grumble, or all of the above.

And that’s really the sum of the narrative. We dip in and out of the Ruttledge’s over the course of a year as they interact with their neighbours with wry acceptance and genuine warmth. Ward brings the calmness and decency he showed in Ken Loach’s underrated Jimmy’s Hall, while Bederke gets less time to exert her presence but exudes a certain Felicity Kendall-esque bucolic glamour. Together they act as the chroniclers of the village and audience surrogates – Joe a novelist and Kate an artist. They’re deceptively difficult roles with much internalised or purely reactive to the more voluble, volatile members of the community.

These include such figures as Patrick (a superb Lalor Roddy), a bachelor dealing badly with the final illness and death of his brother, sweet-natured Bill (Brendan Conroy) who has endured a lifetime of mistrust purely by being born illegitimate, and the particularly poignant Johnny (Sean McGinley). Another returnee to the area, Johnny discovers that in a time of deep misfortune his remaining family no longer have the means or the will to help. A final shot of him of him pushing his bicycle up the hill as he leaves Joe and Kate’s is as eloquent as any eulogy.

A documentarian who made a film about the source material’s author, Collins pays intertextual tribute to John McGahern by having Joe read the late writer’s words as part of the novel he’s writing. There’s also a knowing wink to the film’s languid style when Joe is asked about his work in progress, ‘Does anything happen, or is it the usual?’ It’s evidence of the wit that he’s brought to this adaptation. What could have been rather dry and bleak is frequently funny and always feels possessed of that vital animus that a close community generates.

As expected of a film set in the Irish countryside, it’s beautiful to look at. Richard Kendrick‘s history in documentary is another plus, finding as much character of the crags of the landscape as the crenelations in the careworn faces of its inhabitants. To complement the visuals, Collins and co-writer Eamon Little find as much resonance, joy, and solemnity in such activities as the building of an outhouse as they do to weddings and wakes.

The Irish film industry appears to be in particularly rude health with a series of extraordinary films across multiple genres being released in recent years. That They May Face the Rising Sun is another exemplary addition to this new canon, one that would make a gorgeous pairing with Colm Bairéad’s exquisite The Quiet Girl. A dramatic narrative that feels like authentic documentary, it’s a film that you need to relax into – like stepping into a hot bath – but it’s an immersive and potent work.

In selected cinemas from Fri 26 Apr 2024