‘The Quiet Girl’ Is a Tender Irish Tale of Hope and Perseverance
Based on the 2010 novella Foster by Claire Keegan, The Quiet Girl follows 9-year-old Cáit, played by first-time actress Catherine Clinch. The film opens with Caít lying in a field somewhere in the Irish countryside, her face covered under tall blades of grass, her knees dirty. A woman offscreen, speaking in the Irish dialect of Gaeilge, yells her name from afar. Cáit has run off again, an upfront explanation of the young girl’s nickname: “The Wanderer.”
The Quiet Girl’s introduction to its titular protagonist is carried out superbly, embracing the less-is-more approach to filmmaking. It is an understated method, one that allows the audience to figure out for themselves what is taking place rather than overexplain things, effectively implemented by first-time narrative filmmaker Colm Bairéad.
After developing more context, no right-minded viewer could blame this poor girl for her frequent disappearances. Her father, or Da as he is referred to, played by Michael Patric, is a prime example of a toxic parent. The moment he steps into a room, Cáit cowers in fear; her three chatty sisters immediately clam up as well.
Not only is Da toxic, he epitomizes the term deadbeat, often taking Cáit to the local pub where she sits in a corner as he drinks at the bar and places bets on soccer matches with the other drunks. The combination of drinking and gambling is clearly having a financial and emotional impact on his family.
On their way home from one of these bar trips, we see Cáit in the back seat of the family’s 1980s jalopy as it passes a young woman walking on the side of the road. Da pulls over and lets her in. The ensuing conversation reeks of infidelity, or the potential for it, all in earshot of the man’s youngest daughter, showing his apathy for her presence.
Cáit’s father knows that his secrets are safe with her; he has made sure of that. This all obviously has taken a toll on the young girl as she hardly speaks — hence the name The Quiet Girl — and often wets the bed.
Cáit is different, an outcast within her family as well as at school. The schoolchildren often whisper and stare whenever she appears. Adults aren’t much better, her tendency to wander along with her habit of bedwetting have led to her being labeled as a handful, proving too difficult for Ma (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) to handle as she is expecting yet another child.
As the due date approaches and the family prepares for another financial burden, a sacrifice must be made. Someone has to go — at least temporarily. Caít, the wanderer and troublemaker, makes the perfect candidate. She is soon to be pawned off to an older couple, distant relatives Eibhlín and Seán Cinnsealach.
As dark as the storyline sounds, Bairéad does not bog the viewer down in feelings of hopelessness. There is always a hope, however slim, that there are better things in store for this sweet, quiet girl. The feeling of optimism that Bairéad and his cinematographer Kate McCullough subtly inject throughout the film is one that’s hard to grasp but easy to feel.
Although much of the story is quite dark, I never doubted that soon there would be light. Or was it just that happy ending in Angela’s Ashes playing with my subconscious? That remained to be seen as Caít settled into her new abode.
The mere appearance of Eibhlín, played beautifully by Carrie Crawley, brings a sense of security and positivity, as she bends over backwards to accommodate the girl without hesitation. She feeds Caít, bathes her, and even finds something for her to wear as Da has inadvertently driven off with the poor girl’s suitcase.
Eibhlín instills the girl with trust, insisting that there are no secrets in this house; but as we all know, everyone of us has at least one. The demeanor of Eibhlín’s husband Seán (Andrew Bennett) gives hints to some underlying skeleton in the closet — something that isn’t easily spoken about in this household.
Seán is instantly cold and dismissive to the little girl, something she’s used to but appears to cause him pain. Can she work her way into Seán’s heart or will she live out the rest of her childhood as the punching bag for yet another man’s unprocessed emotions?
There comes a time later in the film in which Caít is described with the line, “She says as much as she needs.” As a film reviewer who aims to leave the reader with some sense of mystery, I’ve said as much as I need. But I’ll say one more thing: The Quiet Girl is a tender tale that says plenty without saying too much.
The Quiet Girl is currently scheduled to show at Independent Picture House through March 23.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.