19 September 2022

A neglected child's world begins to blossom in moving Irish film, The Quiet Girl

| Marcus Kelson
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girl looks to the side

The Quiet Girl stars Catherine Clinch as a girl whose life is transformed one summer. Photo: Supplied.

Rarely are you transported by a film that seems much more than a sum of its parts, and you feel the need to characterise it in a different language or description.

Irish/Gaelic film, The Quiet Girl, initially conjured thoughts of pastoral symphonies or symphonic poems by artists such as Elgar or Vaughan-Williams with its darkness, joy, mystery, menace, love and intimacy.

Set in 1981, the film tells of young Cait (Catherine Clinch) who with her many siblings lives in almost abject poverty with a heavily pregnant mother and drinker-gambler father.

Withdrawn, Cait doesn’t speak and seems to live in complete fear of her father. But then she is sent to Wexford for the warmer months to live with a couple who are distant relatives.

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Claire Keegan, who wrote the book on which the film is based, Foster, explained the narrative: For me, the fact the story unfolds in summer is primarily a practical matter.

“Given that it is so long since we’ve had [a hot summer], it was pleasurable to write about. It also deepened the happiness of the summer.

In the first month with her dairy farmer hosts Eibhlín and Seán Cinnsealach (Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett), Cait slowly begins opening up to the couple. She helps out on the farm in oversized clothing and seems to experience a freedom and distancing from the oppressive and loveless household she has left.

As Cait runs to the letterbox and back, we see her face come alive for the first time. These seemingly slight moments are in fact desperately poignant.

But the Cinnsealachs hold a secret. They are a childless couple and one night when Cait is being walked home by a family acquaintance, we find out why she was initially dressed in someone else’s clothes.

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The revelation has the potential power to unravel her trust in the couple but instead she seeks answers – and is met with honesty.

Truth lies at the heart of The Quiet Girl as Cait’s bond with the couple becomes increasingly important during her short stay. Kate McCullough’s incredible cinematography and Emma Lowney’s production design add an almost Secret Garden aspect to the story.

Director Colm Bairead stays true to Keegan’s original storytelling, but purposefully leaves a lot open to question and wonder. Told through the eyes of a child, much like To Kill a Mockingbird, there are things that may not exist at all.

The cast is utterly superb and as Cait is allowed to spread her wings, she is in fact The Lark Ascending.

I give this incredible, moving and desperately beautiful film five out of five stars.

The Quiet Girl is now showing at Dendy and Palace Electric.

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