‘The Quiet Girl’ is a Remarkably Heartbreaking Film

What a treat to watch a film that doesn’t drown us in the obvious or spell out each character’s precise thoughts. There are no explosions or action sequences, and these folks are ever so believable and grounded in life. With the depth of emotions relayed and the unhurried pacing, it’s remarkable that this is the first feature film from writer-director Colm Bairéad. The Quiet Girl is based on “Foster,” a story by co-writer Claire Keegan.

It’s 1981, and a mother Máthair Cháit (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) is calling for her daughter Cáit (an extraordinary Catherine Clinch) who is difficult to spot, blending in with the pasture of her family’s farm. Being nearly invisible is how Cáit spends her days. Mom is just about ready to deliver a new addition to the already crowded home. One more is one too many mouths to feed since dad (Michael Patric) is barely involved. With no discussion or even an explanation, Cáit is unceremoniously dropped off at a relative’s house for the summer. By this time, we’ve noticed she is extraordinarily quiet as she tries to remain unnoticed in her out-of-sync world – a home that lacks warmth and obvious love.

Cáit is immediately struck by the kindness and tenderness shown by Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley), the woman at the new house who casts a fawning gaze at the child. Seán, Eibhlín’s husband (Andrew Bennett), is not nearly as welcoming of the girl and seems to avoid speaking directly to her initially. Where previously Cáit lived a life of isolation, missing the adoration young kids expect from parents, she’s quick to embrace Eibhlín’s attention and chips in with chores around the farm.

For a while, our focus is on Cáit and Eibhlín, but slowly it shifts as Seán gradually thaws from his early silent treatment. It’s fascinating to watch the subtle ways in which Cáit and Seán develop a bond. He even acknowledges her natural tendency towards silence by advising something along the lines of, ‘many people have missed the opportunity to say nothing.’ For her, it’s been a survival instinct. To Seán, it’s often a wise choice.

The work by Kate McCullough, the director of photography, is exceptional. The shots of nature are lovely, but it’s the way she shoots these evolving characters that really makes an impact. An example of the complexity embedded in this ‘simple’ story is how Eibhlín informs Cáit that secrets within a home are a bad omen; so imagine Cáit’s surprise when Úna, the neighbor, spills the dark secret held by Eibhlín and Seán.

Gaelic is the predominant language spoken here, making subtitles a necessity. Colm Bairéad’s film has received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language feature film, and although the story doesn’t move at the pace we’ve grown accustomed to, the ending strikes us square in the heart as we realize Cáit truly feels love for the first time.