The weight of unspoken choices – or the lack thereof – hangs over The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin) ( this magnificent debut from writer-director Colm Bairéad. In rural Ireland, in 1981, nine-year-old Cáit (Catherine Clinch) is one of many siblings to an exhausted mother and father (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh and Michael Patric). In contrast to her rambunctious siblings, the overcrowded home environment has pushed the girl further into herself. She struggles at school and seeks solitude to the consternation of those around her. When her mother has another baby, Cáit becomes the first candidate to be sent three hours away to live with a distant relative for the summer.
Cáit has no say in this, and her parents have neither the will nor the means to get to the bottom of her debilitating withdrawal. Fortunately, her foster parents, Eibhlín and Seán (Carrie Crawley and Andrew Bennett), are kind and steady; the bond that unfolds between them further complicates and interrogates a web of choice, secrecy, and family. Perhaps there is no new or groundbreaking material in Bairéad’s plot and characterisation. Still, it unfolds with nuance, honesty, and empathy, lodging The Quiet Girl firmly in hearts and minds long after the credits roll.
Clinch captures a young child who already has years of practice shrinking away from any sort of attention and notice. As she hides in plain sight and eventually moves into her own agency, her choices feel reactive, natural, and mature in spirit while keeping with Cáit’s youth. As her parents by chance, Crawley and Bennett capture the care in buttoning coats, buying a new dress, and sneakily leaving a biscuit out. Cinematographer Kate McCullough finds poetry and poignancy in the little moments and the grand gestures of love.
Stephen Rennick’s strings-based score veers towards the sentimental but feels an appropriate echo of Cáit’s burgeoning confidence, trust, and vulnerability. The ache of its open-ended questions and the ambiguity of its judgement towards every major character lend depth to fairly straightforward proceedings: Bairéad does not explicitly seem to blame the adults for Cáit’s troubles, but at the same time posits that ambivalence is its form of violence.
To English-speaking non-Irish viewers, The Quiet Girl is a vivid reminder that the Irish language is not in any way connected to the language of its colonizing country – one that has obscured or wiped out several indigenous languages around the world. Perhaps it should not feel so radical; perhaps it is a damning legacy of colonialism that it does. Its visibility at the 2023 Academy Awards as a Best International feature nominee is wholly deserved by its merits and feels overdue in terms of representing the Irish language.
A simple story perfectly told, The Quiet Girl refuses overwrought drama and easy answers. Colm Bairéad’s next project is already eagerly awaited.
The Quiet Girl opens in US theatres on February 24
by Carmen Paddock
Carmen is a Pennsylvanian transplant to Glasgow who writes about film, television, and opera. A lover of maximalism and musicals, much of her writing focuses on cross-media adaptation. Favourite films include West Side Story, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ludwig, Cabaret, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Moulin Rouge!. She holds a Masters in International Film Business from the University of Exeter / London Film School. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenChloie
Categories: Anything and Everything, Films, Reviews
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