The Quiet Girl

The Quiet Girl ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Though cinema has been tied to Irish culture for a very long time, since 1910 when the first fictional film was shot in the country, Ireland has not long had a thriving film industry. That first film for example, The Lad from Old Ireland, was an American film simply shot in Ireland. It wasn’t a truly Irish film. And that’s been the case for Irish cinema for most of its history really. For decades, Ireland was a prime location for filming, and it was often presented in very idyllic quiet ways. It was the land of green hills and simple people. To domestic critics, this was seen as stereotypical, but native Irish didn’t have much room to tell their own stories due to strict censorship laws from the staunch Catholic government. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Irish cinema really began to take off with what is known as the First Wave of Irish Cinema, following the international success of filmmakers such as Bob Quinn and Pat O’ was during this time that the Irish government established the Irish Film Board to boost domestic filmmakers, realizing the financial opportunities it presented. Since then, the industry has been growing and filmmakers have managed to break out on the international stage.

The Quiet Girl is one of the more recent films put out from Ireland, one that to an extent embraces the idyllic perception of the country, while still exploring the deeper social issues that drove earlier Irish film waves. It’s a quiet and peaceful film, very soft spoken in its characters, dialogue, cinematography, and music. Tenderly portrayed by director Colm Bairéad, and subtle in the performances from the main cast, the film uses that idyllic atmosphere that so long drew filmmakers to Ireland and uses it to soften the emotional weight of the story. But make no mistake, this is a very emotional story. It’s a painfully heart aching story of loneliness and neglect and most of that emotion comes from Catherine Clinch‘s lead performance as Cáit. The youngest of several siblings, with another younger brother on the way, it’s clear from the very beginning that hers is not a happy life and that she is lacking much, above all the warmth of love. From the beginning, we are introduced to her as being alone with nature, lying in a field of grass, so small and still and lifeless that it’s difficult to even make her out amongst the thick foliage that envelops her. From the beginning, it’s clear that she’s a quiet and lonely child. She hardly even speaks until a good portion of the way into the film. The film’s title is very obvious in its application to her. She is not just a soft spoke  girl. She is quiet in her very existence, hardly leaving much of an impression on anyone around her, timidly passing through life, not knowing how to reach out to anyone after having been raised so long to fade into the background. Clinch brings out the tender heartache that this small child feels so beautifully that she quickly stands out as one of the best performers of the year, squarely among the top ten female performances of the year. Hers is a tender performance that demands sympathy and forces one to pay closer attention to her to catch the nuances of her wide eyes, of the timid glances she casts around her, of the way she holds herself to make herself as small as she can until she starts opening up to her distant relatives. And those relatives are extraordinary as well, there’s no doubt. Carrie Crowley as Eibhlín Cinnsealach and Andrew Bennett as Seán Cinnsealach are both phenomenal in their quiet dynamic with each other and with Cáit. I keep using this word but it’s really the best description of the film as a whole and especially Crowley and Bennett’s performances; they’re tender and gentle, coaxing more and more out of Cáit, trying to get her to see what love is supposed to feel like. By the end, it’s not just Cáit who comes to love them. It becomes impossible not to fall in love with this family dynamic and to genuinely wish that they could stay together. It’s a beautifully sincere and heartfelt depiction of family that’s slightly out of the mold, with this older couple who’ve lost their child taking in this young child who has no loving parents. It’s a genuine and tender and warm, contributing to this idyllic atmosphere that Bairéad crafts. This almost cozy and subtle tone that lulls one in with its heartfelt realness as it slowly draws blood with it’s more devastating emotional moments. The reveal that the Cinnsealach’s had lost a child for example stands as one such moment, which also helps showcase the phenomenal performances from these three lead actors. It’s all shot with this soft light, this lingering editing that holds in place each shot longer than most would believe necessary but it contributes to this stillness the film finds peace in. Especially when shooting nature. When indulging in the beauty of Ireland, the film truly finds its place, basking in the idyll of the peaceful plains and woods of the small country.

Overall, this is a film that blends the stereotypically idyllic presentation of Ireland with the more emotionally devastating social commentary of early native Irish cinema, and ultimately then creates a beautifully gentle film which demands one to look beneath its tender exterior.

Favorite Line: “If there are secrets in a house, there is shame in that house. We don’t want shame in this house.” - Eibhlín Cinnsealach (Carrie Crowley)

Favorite Scene: The Ending. That scene of Cáit standing at the entrance to the road, staring out across it, the soft light over her, lingering on her stillness, until ultimately, like letting out air after holding your breath too long, she takes off. She runs down the road, not away from Seán anymore but towards him. Not away from a loving home but towards one. She runs towards the love she’s been seeking for so long. And as he takes her in her arm, and we see Eibhlín crying in the car, we get this feeling that things can work out. Even as her father storms down the road towards her, she no longer acknowledges his familiar relationship to her. It is Seán she holds tighter as she whispers daddy. He becomes the father she’s wanted all along. It’s this quiet moment of affirmation and reciprocation.

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