Monday 23 May 2022

Child's play: "The Quiet Girl/An Cailín Ciúin"

Squeezed between the multiverses and the mavericks, some bona fide, old-school summer counterprogramming. (Counterprogramming that would appear to be paying off, too, if the three-quarters full house I saw
The Quiet Girl with on its second weekend of release is anything to go by.) Adapted from Claire Keegan's 2010 novella Foster, Colm Bairéad's Gaelic-language drama is another of the cinema's becalmed miniatures about childhood: the films it immediately recalls are those of Victor Erice (The Spirit of the Beehive, El Sur) and Carla Simon's more recent Summer 1993, although it may ultimately be stealthier than any of those, creeping up on the unsuspecting viewer and only hitting us with the full, cumulative impact of its choices in the closing scenes. Summer 1981 might have been an alternative title. It's here we begin, with a deft sketch of an overstretched household in rural Ireland, observed from the POV of mournful pre-teen Cait (Catherine Clinch): dad (Michael Patric) an inveterate gambler and ladies' man, mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) pregnant and put-upon besides, multiple sisters and an infant brother's cries milling around in the gloomy middle distance. For at least half of its running time, The Quiet Girl is made up of what Cait sees but cannot yet understand: the narrow Academy frame, suddenly back in vogue, is here a perspectival choice. We're getting child-sized fragments of a bigger picture, glimpses of a sadness that extends beyond our field of vision.

The cause and extent of that sadness is brought into sharper focus when Cait is packed off to stay with a foster mother, Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley), and her gruffly agricultural hubby Sean (Andrew Bennett). Dad drops Cait at the couple's gates with no particular tenderness, tearing away in his crappy old banger without even troubling to unload the suitcase of possessions his child has packed in the boot. In the foster home scenes that follow, Bairéad works up an acute sense of what it is to be cared for - to be bathed and clothed and fed, to be included rather than overlooked or marginalised. (One especially lovely image: the Kimberley biscuit the farmer surreptitiously deposits on the breakfast table for his young charge, the kind of run-of-the-mill treat that would have been unthinkable in Cait's previous existence.) Yet nothing is ever laid on too thick; Bairéad has stripped back even that identical-twin trickery that was a feature of last year's broadly minimalist Petite Maman. His images remain frontal and steady, and while he pushes his soundtrack hard (work going on in the surrounding fields, families at war, a radio giving notice that even this respite must come to an end), part of the pleasure here is encountering a filmmaker who appears determined not to forcefeed or overcomplicate his frames, the better to centre the understated emotions in play, and connect with his audience. A major third-act incident, which would likely seem horribly contrived elsewhere, is instead insinuated through montage, becoming an almost Roeg-like matter of reawakened intuition; more generally, Bairéad adheres to the farmer's philosophy of keeping his trap shut and getting on with the job ("Many's the person who's missed an opportunity to say nothing, and lost much because of it"). The Quiet Girl's silences are resonant, and moving in the extreme.

The Quiet Girl/An Cailín Ciúin is now showing in selected cinemas, and available to rent via Curzon Home Cinema.


  1. Hi Mike the biscuit was a Kimberly

    1. Thank you! Your eyesight and biscuit knowledge clearly surpasses my own - will edit accordingly. And will try a Kimberley when I visit Ireland for the very first time next month! (They missed a trick, not doing a promotional tie-in with the film...)

  2. An elegant and considered review, thank you!