The Quiet Girl

Director: Colm Bairéad
Screenplay: Colm Bairéad (based on the short story “Foster” by Claire Keegan)
Stars: Carrie Crowley (Eibhlín Cinnsealach), Andrew Bennett (Seán Cinnsealach), Catherine Clinch (Cáit), Michael Patric (Athair Cháit), Kate Nic Chonaonaigh (Máthair Cháit), Joan Sheehy (Úna), Tara Faughnan (Sorcha), Neans Nic Dhonncha (Gráinne), Eabha Ni Chonaola (Aoife), Carolyn Bracken (The Woman)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2022 (Europe) / 2023 (U.S.)
Country: Ireland
The Quiet Girl
The Quiet Girl

Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl is simple and beautiful in its moving evocation of human experience and the depth of its belief in the transformative power of human kindness. As quiet and unassuming as its title character, Bairéad’s film (his feature directorial debut) finds a consistently thoughtful and emotionally stirring balance between the inevitability of the harsher aspects of life and a profound sense of hope. The film is hard when it needs to be, but it also holds space for optimism, even as it refuses easy answers or pat reassurances.

The girl of the title is Cáit (Carrie Crowley), who is one of five siblings living in a crowded house in a small town in rural Ireland in the early 1980s with their mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh), who is pregnant, and father (Michael Patric), who is one of those brooding alcoholics whose presence immediately causes a hush in the room. For reasons that are never fully explained (but are most likely related to the mother’s pregnancy), they decide to send Cáit to live with relatives for the summer. The relatives are a middle-age couple, Seán (Andrew Bennett) and Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley), who live on a rural farm and whose relation to Cáit is never made clear (if they are, in fact, actually related). Eibhlín is gentle and warmly welcoming of Cáit in a way that suggests she has always wanted to have a child but never could, while Seán remains conspicuously distant and uninvolved. He focuses on his work tending to the farm and pays Cáit little mind, to the point of actively ignoring her presence and declining Eibhlín’s offer each evening to tell the girl goodnight. Cáit is clearly a damaged soul, although Bairéad, in adapting the short-story-turned-novella “Foster” by Claire Keegan, keeps the nature of her damage vague. All that matters is that Cáit has been through a lot and has turned deeply inward as a means of protecting herself, a stance that her experience living with Eibhlín and Seán will slowly relax.

And that is essentially all The Quiet Girl has to offer in terms of narrative, but that is hardly all there is. The simple story structure gives Bairéad and his deeply gifted cast a broad space to explore and dramatize Cáit’s slow, painful, but ultimately poignant emergence under Eibhlín and Seán’s care. There are no big moments or grand revelations (well, there is a significant revelation about Eibhlín and Seán’s past, but it isn’t hard to guess early on), but rather a steady accumulation of small details involving the characters’ interactions. A lesser film would have leaned heavily on big speeches and dramatic moments, but Bairéad has the confidence to allow his characters to emerge gradually in the little moments. Most profound here is the manner in which Seán’s previously cool detachment toward Cáit slowly melts, not because of any one major event, but rather the continuance of her presence and the growing realization of how much he needs her as much as she needs him. Again, none of this is stated explicitly, but rather revealed through nuances of behavior and gesture and changes in body language. The Quiet Girl is a minor masterpiece of dramatic accumulation.

And the film wouldn’t work without the central performance by Catherine Clinch, a complete unknown who has never starred in a film before. Clinch’s naturalistic performance is shorn of artifice and mannerisms, achieving a kind of direct purity that seems to transcend “acting.” She simply is. As the title suggests, Cáit spends much of the film not speaking, but she is nevertheless immensely expressive, with every flick of her eyes, contraction of her shoulders, or shift of weight conveying a world of information about her emotional state—anxieties, fears, desires, hope. Similarly, Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett give rich performances, showing us through the smallest of actions how their characters are adjusting to Cáit’s presence in their home, which ultimately affects them as much as they affect her.

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Overall Rating: (4)

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