The Quiet Girl [An Cailín Ciúin]

Colm Bairead
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  • 20 Feb 2024
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    Nostalgic tale set in rural Ireland. A girl is sent away from her dysfunctional family to live with relatives for the summer. She blossoms in their care, but discovers a family secret. Best Foreign Feature Oscar nominee 2023.

    What's this?
    F-Rated Silver

    Film Notes

    The Quiet Girl review – exquisite debut drama set in rural Ireland

    A young girl sent to live with relatives for the summer blossoms in Colm Bairéad’s beguiling first feature.

    It seems a modest little story at first, a cinematic wallflower content to cling to the corners of its tight, boxed-in aspect ratio, rather than thrust itself on to the audience. But while The Quiet Girl, Colm Bairéad’s multi-award-winning Irish-language drama, might be small in scale, it’s one of the most exquisitely realised films of the year. There’s a kinship with Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman in the crystalline delicacy of the storytelling – an adaptation of Claire Keegan’s acclaimed short story Foster – and the way it plays on the heartstrings like a harp. It also calls to mind the earliest work of Lynne Ramsay – her first feature, Ratcatcher, and short film Gasman – in the way Kate McCullough’s curious camera latches on to the small details that are magnified in the eyes of a child.

    The quiet girl is Cáit (the remarkable Catherine Clinch), one of an ever-expanding brood of neglected kids on an impoverished smallholding in early-80s rural Ireland. With her mother expecting yet another baby, and her father skulking sullenly in the background like an unspoken threat, Cáit is sent to stay with distant relatives: warm, wise Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) wraps her in love immediately; Seán (Andrew Bennett) is taciturn and reserved but no less bonded to the child. Under their care, Cáit blossoms. “All you needed was some minding,” says Eibhlín.

    It’s an accomplished work from first-time feature director Bairéad, who, appropriately, has the knack of telling us everything we need to know without words: a tense momentary standoff over some sticks of rhubarb, for example, is more eloquent than pages of dialogue could ever be.

    Wendy Ide, The Observer, 14th May 2022.

    An Cailín Ciúin review: Delicately beautiful Irish film lives up to its billing

    This unsettling 1980s-set drama has a pervasive sense of unspoken menace.

    Colm Bairéad’s Irish-language drama wafts in on unprecedented waves of early acclaim. In February An Cailín Ciúin became the first feature in the native tongue to play at the Berlin Film Festival. It won the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle award for best Irish film and the audience award at the Dublin International Film Festival. Two months ago it surged past Belfast, a multiple Oscar nominee, to take seven prizes at the Irish Film and Television Academy awards.

    There is little danger that weight of expectation will crush this delicately beautiful gossamer construction. Adapted from Claire Keegan’s novella Foster, the film borrows the syntax of the ghost story as it works us through universal anxieties about looming adolescence. The action is unsettling throughout. There is a pervasive sense of unspoken menace lurking just outside the frame (or somewhere in the near past or future). But it is also a celebration of uncomplicated human kindness.

    An Cailín Ciúin, set in the very early 1980s, follows young Cáit (Catherine Clinch) as she is sent to stay with relatives while her mother prepares for a new baby. The film subtly, but unambiguously, contrasts the two homes. Her parents are abrasive and unsmiling. Seán and Eibhlín (Andrew Bennett and Carrie Crowley), her foster carers, live in a more ordered environment and speak in less spiky sentences. Yet something is not right. Seán loses his cool when Cáit goes missing for a few minutes. When the softly spoken Eibhlín explains that – in assumed contrast to the girl’s own home – “there are no secrets in this house” we sense this may not be the whole truth.

    Clinch’s excellent performance reinforces those inclinations towards the supernatural. Wearing an old-fashioned dress, her hair down below her shoulders, she could easily have stepped from the pages of a Victorian children’s story. Playing a largely passive observer, the quiet girl of the title, Clinch is well up to the challenge of communicating her unease through curtailed gesture and nervy pause. Why are there trains on the bedroom wallpaper? Where have these used children’s clothes come from? Answers are hard to come by when, as a child in 1981, you are so often just outside the conversation.

    Kate McCullough, among the best Irish cinematographers of her generation, risks jarringly dramatic contrasts between light and shade in her academy-ratio images (it is time for a treatise on why that narrow frame is so in fashion again). A near-sepulchral visit to a night-time beach is properly odd in way that might impress even Michael Powell.

    The core revelation, when it comes in near matter-of-fact fashion, does not take us towards anything otherworldly, but Bairéad continues to approach reality from an oblique angle. Stephen Rennicks’s beautiful score builds as Eibhlín counts out her brushing of Cáit’s hair, as if in mystic ritual. Bennett and Crowley, both cautious and unhurried, convey the sense of decent people unable to fully honour their own open natures. Neither can say what the other needs to hear.

    The temptation to revel in period detail is thankfully resisted, but the brief glimpse of Bunny Carr in RTÉ quiz show Quicksilver provides enough televisual madeleine to satisfy any passing Proustian. Maybe you still get orange cheese and beetroot for lunch, but that too feels like a relic from another age. Nudging the story into the past helps pull the social barriers up a little higher. It also invites the interpretation that we are looking at a memoir composed decades hence. Opened up to kinder ways of living, an older Cáit will surely play through variations on these memories on a daily basis. An Cailín Ciúin thus becomes a recreation of a perturbing interlude that also, in its unusual way, became something of an idyll. Balancing such contradictions is part of growing up. An unqualified success.

    Donald Clarke, The Irish Times, 13th May 2022

    What you thought about The Quiet Girl [An Cailín Ciúin]

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    43 (66%) 22 (34%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 65
    Film Score (0-5): 4.66

    Collated Response Comments

    125 members and guests attended this screening. We received 65 responses which has delivered a Film Score of 4.66 and makes The quiet girl the MOST POPULAR FILM of the season so far, topping  Everything Went Fine’s score of 4.63. The response rate was 52%. This is excellent, thanks everyone….

    For the next two screenings you will not be seeing me.

    Two members of the committee will present instead. James Culver will introduce Capote and John Macdonald will introduce Luzzu.

    Your collected comments are below.

    "A beautiful film that captivated me from start to finish. It felt very dark and threatening at the beginning but with the actions of delicate brushing of hair, gentle scooping of clear well water, sweeping away the slurry and the simple act of placing the biscuit on the table, it spoke more than a thousand words of the powerful love that developed between Cait and the couple who had experienced their own grief but opened their hearts to her. A film that kept you contemplating well after it had finished and I had used up all my tissues!"

    "A very beautifully constructed film...storyline, images, actors, pace; perfectly put together. My favourite film of the season so far".

    “Foster by Claire Keegan is a great read. The Quiet Girl is a great watch. Real life is so hard but there are some very good people out there”.

    “What a wonderful film, beautifully shot. Full of sad and joyful truths The Quiet Girl made me fall under its spell gradually, ending in a cathartic howl of anguished love; not a dry eye in the house, methinks. Reminded me of Davies' Distant Voices, Still Lives. Seeing Cait initially, the camera pans down to find her hiding beneath tall blades of grass. The rural life certainly ain't idyllic in any way, given the economic hardship cemented by parents who can't be bothered with her. We see plenty of sadness, Cait's unhappiness evident to the optimism that goodness exists, and decency really can be life-changing. Cáit barely needed to speak to show she's a cry for help, her eye movement, the scared glances telling all you need to know. Away from the barren love of home for the summer, I wondered if Cait had swapped that despair for another form of oppression with Eibhlín and Seán; she maybe too much in Cait's presence and he aloof from Cait. But the filming stays in frame, with characters seen in tight doorways and through windows. Then the shift happens; Cait doing chores, the hair brushing, running to the post box for Sean, dress shopping with Eibhlín sees Cait grow and bloom with nurture instead of toxic neglect. Their own sorrow isn't made clear; but bedroom wallpaper gives a hint. Truth comes out in a matter-of-fact way deepens our sense of immersion in these characters' lives. Those three lights in the sea presage the possible happy ending ... we hope”.

    “Beautifully shot and beautifully acted. The final scene? I'm going for the happy ending”.

    “A wonderful, yet understated representation of contrasting settings. One a dark, uncomfortable, unwelcoming household; the other a warm, light and safe environment but still touched by sadness. So few words needed to portray so much. The viewer is left to decide what the future will be for the quiet girl”.

    “A joy to watch this film, the scenery, the acting very good by all and superb by the little girl It really tapped into the emotions”.

    “A rather beautiful film. An underlying feeling that something bad would happen but even when Cait fell in the well it wasn't the disaster it might have been. Not overly sentimental or sugar coated either, but some touching moments, as when Sean left the biscuit on the table for Cait. Catherine Clinch was excellent. The uncertain ending suited the film, while you were left willing Cait to go with her loving carers rather than be left with her boorish father and brow beaten mother. Another good choice, thank you.”.

    “Really enjoyed the simple dialogue and filming. Enjoyed watching the relationships develop with her and her 'adoptive parents' especially the father figure”.

    “Beautiful, sensitive and well-acted film. A delight to watch”.

    “The Quiet Girl" was a treat. If someone asks for a good movie recommendation, this is the one I'd mention. It's not flamboyant, but the elegant quietness of it all--not just the girl, but also the middle-aged couple and the scenery--feels gently soothing and uplifting at the same time. I felt healed with the girl as I watched it. The ending is sad because of what happens, but it leaves us thinking they could still have good times together every summer. Or the couple will stay as her aunt and uncle for the rest of her life, and it seems to reassure that she'll be okay in the future. Under the gentleness, however, is a serious issue. The main characters seem to have a deep connection because of tough experiences they've shared (trauma bonding). Also, it's easy to judge, but the girl's parents might have some serious mental health issues, likely because they were also victims of abuse by a dysfunctional family, potentially going back for centuries. It's easy to blame others (parents), but the movie reminds me of how we could make society better. Why isn't our society producing enough good parents like the couple? Every single one of us deserves them (including the girls' parents). Wars and a stressful society produce more and more people with personality disorders who cannot smile or love in the right way. I hope the world leaders/politicians/governments will spend more money on education and education on good parenting so that there will be more decent (normal) human beings in this society”.

    “What a wonderful, gentle film full of underplayed restraint and great acting”.

    “A deeply touching film”.

    “An enjoyable, gentle and slow-paced film about love and loss, with excellent nuanced acting performances from the whole cast”.

    “Really enjoyed the film. It would have been interesting to see where and how Cait grew up”.

    “Apologies for the lateness of this response. I loved the slow pace and scenes with sparse dialogue. There seemed to be more space to observe the landscape, interiors and the characters. The last scene was raw and beautiful. I found the sound a bit of a struggle so was glad of the subtitles”.

    “Very tender film. Many complex emotions.

    “Lovely, gentle film. Great photography and Music. Very atmospheric – well acted”.

    “Understated, intelligent film making”

    “A beautiful film -acting, scenery, cinematography”.

    “So slight, but so poignant”. “Lovely peaceful film”.

    “Beautifully filmed and very moving”.

    “A lovely film, beautifully crafted. A sensitive and insightful study of child loneliness/parenting/loss etc..”.

    “Wonderful film. Very special. Beautifully made”.

    “Loved it except for the hard-to-understand English bits”. “Beautiful”.

    “Moving”. “Very human”. “Photography beautiful. Great film”.

    “So touching and wonderfully acted – the silence spoke a million words. Do hope they took her with them!”

    “What a lovely film. Beautifully made. Moving. The little girl is s talented actress”.

    “Brilliant – really wonderful.” “Heart wrenching”. “Great young actress”.

    “Very good – emotionally charged – I love the Irishness of it all”.

    “Gentle story with love and deep emotions – enjoyed”. “Very good”.

    “Even with minimum subtitles it was very clear how all the emotions were running through. Excellent young actress”.

    “Very enjoyable. Lovely young actress”.

    “Very good actors. The story was complicated and the ending – should have been longer!!!”

    “Good but I had great difficulty understanding the father. English – needed more subtitles”.

    “A different and sensitive film – quality of vision not always ideal but no problem. Good to see it anyway”. “Heart breaker”.

    “Slow but moving!”

    “Very moving but not a very satisfactory ending”.

    “A lovely paced film”. “Wonderful heartwarming film”.

    “Beautifully filmed, acted and storyline”.

    “Moving, challenging storyline. Beautiful sensitive young actor”.


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