The Quiet Girl
by George Wolf
This has been a fan-fecking-tastic awards season for the Emerald Isle. Multiple Oscar nominee The Banshees of Inisherin has racked up plenty of other noms and wins these last few weeks, and the sublime short feature An Irish Goodbye is a recent BAFTA winner and leading Oscar contender ahead of Sunday’s ceremony.
But the hometown favorite might well be The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin), up for a Best International Film Oscar after winning seven of its ten nominations at the recent Irish Film Awards.
So yes, it’s feckin’ good, and it’s so exquisitely, heartbreakingly Irish.
In fact, the feature debut from writer/director Colm Bairéad is the first Irish language film to be nominated for an Oscar, but it begins speaking through the subtle foreshadowing of a cuckoo’s song – the bird known for laying its eggs in the nests of others.
And in rural Ireland circa 1981, young Cáit (an astonishing debut from Catherine Clinch) is sent away from her dysfunctional family to live with “her mother’s people” for the summer. Middle-aged couple Seán (Andrew Bennett) and Eibhlín (a marvelous Carrie Crowley) have never met the shy and introspective Cáit, but they welcome her into their home.
Seán spends most days working the farm, so Eibhlín tends to Cáit with an unconditional affection she has never known, and the young girl begins to blossom. But after Eibhlín declares “if there are secrets, there is shame,” Cáit discovers a secret that permeates the farmhouse.
Like Belgium’s Close (also up for Best International Feature), The Quiet Girl features a terrific debut from a child actor and is draped in a tender stillness that gently cradles the building of its central relationship. Clinch and Crowley are absolutely wonderful together, rendering it nearly impossible not the care whether this wide-eyed young girl and her wounded mother figure will feel safe enough to open their hearts.
In adapting Claire Keegan’s novella, Bairéad’s storytelling is confidently restrained and overflowing with compassion, as it builds to one of the most quietly devastating final shots in years. The Quiet Girl is an intimate, beautifully realized take on finding what we need to heal our pain – and knowing when to rise up and meet it.