Colm Bairéad’s utterly fantastic The Quiet Girl is a beautiful piece of cinema that, before you know it, has grabbed your heart and run off with it. Catherine Clinch mesmerises as a young girl finally getting the care she needs. An exceptional film inherently tinged with sadness but is also able to keep hope and love alive.
Withdrawn Cáit (Catherine Clinch) is sent to live with distant relatives for the summer in the 1980s. She is welcomed with open arms by Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley), but her husband Seán (Andrew Bennett) keeps Cáit at arm’s length. Slowly but surely, a warmth grows within this makeshift family, and Cáit reaps the benefits. But, until that is, she discovers more than she anticipated.
Colm Bairéad takes his time in his feature film debut; he wants to show us the life that Cáit has been enduring for so long and one that he immediately has us wishing she was not in. The Quiet Girl is a remarkably simple story (something which has been a trend so far this year) but with such nuanced undertones that before you realise it, it has you.
Cáit just wants to be loved, and being one of soon to be five children with a father who doesn’t provide the affection she needs and a mother who is so rushed off her feet that she barely has a moment to attend to her, she has become neglected. Mistreated at school, she lacks any form of support required for someone so young. Finally, with the impended arrival of another sibling, her parents decide to ship her off to a far off for the summer. It appears as if this girl is just going to be forgotten about.
Eibhlín and Seán dutifully take her in and see the struggle that poor Cáit has gone through with one simple moment. As her father drives off back home, he has forgotten to leave the suitcase full of her clothes. As said, it is a simple thing, but an important one, as it shows just how forgotten about Cáit is by her own family. This moment isn’t lost on Eibhlín, who goes straight to work to show the young girl something she has probably been missing for her entire life, affection.
Again, it is the little moments here that start to pull at the heartstrings, seeing Cáit look away in fear for having wet the bed, just for her new temporary guardian to ease her. You literally feel the pent-up stress and worry within the young girl ease away in one scene. This, of course, increases more and more as we see the once timid girl become someone entirely different, and the change is so fantastic.
What makes it fantastic, though, is the performance of Catherine Clinch, who steals the film with her performance. She says so much just with her face and body language that you could swear she just uttered a monologue. Yet, you understand her so clearly, which is difficult for an actor to do, regardless of their age. Backing Clinch up is the at times heartbreaking performances of Crowley and Bennett, who bare themselves with their performances.
While you could easily guess what the couple are keeping from Cáit, it doesn’t stop the reveal from hitting you as hard. You feel for the two incredibly. With the cinematography by Kate McCullough, you feel their warmth; even when Seán is rightfully trepidatious regarding their new ward, you feel the screen become bright and warmer as he falls for her. Contrast this warm and welcoming environment to Cáit’s home, which is dark and grim in its colour palette, and you can’t help but begin to wish that she never has to return home.
Subtle but integral filmmaking like this leaves you thinking you have stepped back in time, and that is not just because of the setting. The entire film feels like something from a bygone era in cinema. Throughout The Quiet Girl, you realise you cannot escape the sadness that has been blowing through. At times, we see love and warmth collide with this sadness; as Cáit comes out of her shell, we realise that she must eventually return home. That this holiday is just that. It isn’t going to last as long as everyone wants and needs it to, and the theme of loss that has been omnipresent throughout really starts to hit home. Loss for the childhood that Cáit should have, and one that Eibhlín and Seán want her to have with them.
The Quiet Girl internally rips your heart into little shreds and stamps as firmly as possible on what remains, doing so by the method of a thousand paper cuts. It also makes itself an important reminder that even the smallest of moments matter for humans. Hopefully, all three of our protagonists can take hope in what their future holds; in a matter of a few months, they have begun to heal one another and wonder love has come back to them. Hopefully, they can keep it within them. Bairéad has made a special film.
The Quiet Girl will be screened from Friday 4th to Saturday 5th, with the screening on Friday 4 March involving a Q&A with Cleona Ni Chrualaoi and Colm Bairéad. Click here for more information.
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