DIRECTOR: Colm Bairéad

CAST: Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Michael Patric, Kate Nic Chonaonaigh, Carolyn Bracken, Joan Sheehy

RUNNING TIME: 94 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: A neglected young girl (Clinch) discovers a loving new set of guardians…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

The Irish language, so often cast aside in Ireland-set features in favour of good ol’ English, is the true star of writer-director Colm Bairéad’s debut feature The Quiet Girl. Once it settles in, the whimsical lyricism in its rural prose is immediately apparent, felt even through the on-screen subtitles which convey the carefully constructed dialogue without sacrificing the original language’s might. It’s further put to good use by justifying the sweet simplicity of the story, offering an almost fairy-tale vibe to an exceptionally grounded (and subtly gothic) situation, making for a fascinatingly gentle viewing experience.

Set in early 80s rural Ireland, the quiet girl of, erm, The Quiet Girl is Cáit (astonishing newcomer Catherine Clinch), the nine-year-old daughter of a neglectful family unit, who barely leaves a dent among her older siblings or even her indifferent parents. With the mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) heavily pregnant, and the father (Michael Patric) more enthusiastic about gambling and drinking than taking care of any of his children, they send young Cáit to live with wealthier cousins Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and Seán (Andrew Bennett) for the summer on their dairy farm, where Cáit experiences, perhaps for the first time in her life, parental figures who actually treat the timid and sensitive girl with love and attention. Slowly, Cáit comes more and more out of her shell, as she bonds with her new (but sadly temporary) guardians, and even learns the tragic reason why they are so mindful of the new young child in their lives.

The Quiet Girl operates on a very light and simple narrative structure, which makes sense when you realise it is based on a short story (Claire Keegan’s Foster, to be exact). Unfolding slowly with tiny little bits added to the narrative each time, there is certainly an episodic feel to the pacing, but Colm Bairéad does well in both his writing and direction to drip-feed the most vital pieces of information without dropping it all at once, avoiding melodrama and just allowing the nature of these characters and scenery to take its course. As a result, there is a sweet wholesomeness to the film that makes it easy to digest without feeling you’ve been served a light meal, which the picturesque cinematography and a gentle, soothing musical score accentuate by their sense of security in this happy and wistful new environment.

It is also one of those films that does well to highlight the underlying drama without calling too much attention to it. Much of said drama comes not from what is said – although there are certainly a couple of key points which can only be expressed through dialogue – but rather what is not said; every single time young Cáit appears on-screen, you can both see and feel the tragedy behind her fragile soul, whether it’s in her composed body language or the wide-eyed yearning in her striking blue eyes, while she herself rarely speaks unless absolutely necessary. Her curious and slightly unnerved approach to being offered something as simple as a bath, or having an adult react with compassion when she wets the bed, speaks volumes to how little of that basic affection she has received up to this point, and as the young girl slowly becomes more certain of herself the changes in how she reacts and interacts with other people and objects are immensely noticeable. It’s a tremendous central performance by young Catherine Clinch, backed up by two equally gentle and warm turns by Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett, as the actress fully understands the sorrow and hurt within her character, to a point where she can easily convey her suppressed emotions without so much as a spoken word.

Once again, though, it is the Irish language itself which turns out to be the film’s MVP. Bairéad’s script initially dips back and forth between English and the more local dialect, most tellingly when young Cáit is forced to endure her family’s lack of sympathy, but the move to her temporary living space adds a consistency with the Irish language which, once again, says everything you need to know about the muddled place from where the neglected child originally comes from. The writing is strong, always pulling you in to its warm embrace and leaving you with emotions that are touching to the very soul. It’s lovingly executed by director Bairéad, delicately performed by a gentle cast, and shot with endearing precision that even the simplest scenes of peeling potatoes or brushing hair can feel like you’re wrapped up in a warm blanket on a cosy, if slightly chilly, starry night.

Hopefully, this film will lead to a lot more Irish language movies in the future, not just because they’re so vastly underrepresented in cinema, but also because – if The Quiet Girl is any indication – there’s a lot more wistful storytelling to be found within this dialect.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Quiet Girl is a fascinatingly wholesome Irish-language drama, which makes exceptional use of the poetic dialogue and gentle framework by writer-director Colm Bairéad, and introduces astonishing young performer Catherine Clinch who is on her way to becoming a bright star of her own.

The Quiet Girl will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 13th May 2022 – click here to find a screening near you!

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