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Tivoli Theatre Presents – After Hours Film Society – The Quiet Girl

April 24, 2023 @ 7:30 pm


Directed by Colm Bairead
Featuring Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett
Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 94 min
Reviewed by Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist

Love and compassion don’t require grand gestures. Often, the subtlest actions forge the deepest, most meaningful connections — a patient ear, a shared space, a gentle hand. Colm Bairéad’s miraculous feature directorial debut “The Quiet Girl” is finely attuned to the soft magnitude those moments can carry for someone yearning for the smallest acts of kindness. Gorgeously realized and crafted with homespun care, this delicate and heartbreaking drama is one of the year’s best films.

If 10-year-old Cáit (newcomer Catherine Clinch) doesn’t say much, that’s because in the cramped, ramshackle, grimy household with three other sisters and her mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh), pregnant with her fifth child, it’s better to be forgotten than noticed. Particularly when Da (Michael Patric) — an abusive husband, resentful father, and failed farmer — enters a room like a weather system, his wife and children turning silent lest the wrong word sets off a lightning storm. Cáit is seen not just as an extra mouth to feed but as a burdensome oddball. She still wets the bed and spends her time alone, roaming the fields of tall grass surrounding their home. Even as small as she tries to make herself, she’s one responsibility too many to handle with a baby on the way. When Mam makes the difficult decision to send Cáit to relatives for the summer, Da can barely be bothered to look up from his horse racing forms.

Working like a magic trick, the 4:3 aspect ratio from cinematographer Kate McCullough that transmits the boxy suffocation of Cáit’s home life feels both cozy and widescreen the moment she arrives in County Waterford. It’s not just that the home of Mam’s cousin Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Seán (Andrew Bennett) is bigger and cleaner, but the air is brighter, and the land pastoral. Set in the 1980s, Eibhlín and Seán’s house feels comfortably modern; comparatively, Cáit might as well have been coming from the previous century. She’s initially uncertain how to compose herself under the immediate warmth and watchfulness of Eibhlín in a house with so much space, including a well-sized room all her own. As for Seán, he initially maintains a cordial distance, wary of drawing too close.

Beautifully adapted by Bairéad from Claire Keegan’s novella “Foster,” a brilliant montage sequence, set to Eibhlín lovingly giving Cáit’s hair one hundred brushstrokes, shows the young girl becoming the serene force that pulls together a makeshift family. Each development is a minor earthquake as Cáit works side-by-side with a newly luminous Eibhlín to prepare meals and learn chores, their hands slipping together as they fetch buckets from the rainwater pond. If Cáit comes into her own under the wings of Eibhlín, it’s Seán who surprisingly gets her out of her shell. The moment he finally allows her to help him around the dairy farm, Cáit is a regular chatterbox, peppering him with questions and eager to earn his validation. Seán is quickly smitten, developing his own routine and relationship with Cáit, secreting her treats and money whenever he can. “What good is it having her here if we can’t spoil her?” he explains to Eibhlín.

What “The Quiet Girl” understands so well is how the infinitesimal can accumulate into something unshakeable. From his core trio, Bairéad pulls performances that are measured out in time to a screenplay that considers, each step of the way, what it means for these characters to triangulate, and how each relationship affects the other. Cáit and Seán’s bond — it can’t be understated how terrific Clinch and Bennett are together — strengthens his marriage to Eibhlín. Meanwhile, she finds a new purpose in giving Cáit the kind of home she never had. As for Cáit, each day seems to be a new wonder, a window to a life she didn’t think was possible or within grasp. Bairéad directs it all with an understated stillness and a remarkable compositional eye. The camera doesn’t move much as each carefully constructed frame allows the minute gravitational changes from scene to scene to speak volumes.

And yet, despite Eibhlín and Seán’s newfound happiness with Cáit, there is a pall of a past tragedy hanging above them, the clues in plain sight. The surfacing of this sorrow and the impending school year marks the end of their time together, creating an ache that pierces their bubble of deeply rooted affection they desperately try to ignore (Eibhlín shuts the radio as it plays an exuberant ad for school supplies). As “The Quiet Girl” reaches its unforgettable and heartbreaking final act, the road ahead for Cáit remains uncertain. But the hope we carry with us is that Cáit now has the strength to seek the nurturing light of care and tenderness wherever life takes her next.

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Delicately beautiful Irish film lives up to its billing
This unsettling 1980s-set drama has a pervasive sense of unspoken menace

Donald Clarke | The Irish Times

Colm Bairéad’s Irish-language drama wafts in on unprecedented waves of early acclaim. In February An Cailín Ciúin became the first feature in the native tongue to play at the Berlin Film Festival. It won the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle award for best Irish film and the audience award at the Dublin International Film Festival. Two months ago it surged past Belfast, a multiple Oscar nominee, to take seven prizes at the Irish Film and Television Academy awards.

There is little danger that weight of expectation will crush this delicately beautiful gossamer construction. Adapted from Claire Keegan’s novella Foster, the film borrows the syntax of the ghost story as it works us through universal anxieties about looming adolescence. The action is unsettling throughout. There is a pervasive sense of unspoken menace lurking just outside the frame (or somewhere in the near past or future). But it is also a celebration of uncomplicated human kindness.

An Cailín Ciúin, set in the very early 1980s, follows young Cáit (Catherine Clinch) as she is sent to stay with relatives while her mother prepares for a new baby. The film subtly, but unambiguously, contrasts the two homes. Her parents are abrasive and unsmiling. Seán and Eibhlín (Andrew Bennett and Carrie Crowley), her foster carers, live in a more ordered environment and speak in less spiky sentences. Yet something is not right. Seán loses his cool when Cáit goes missing for a few minutes. When the softly spoken Eibhlín explains that – in assumed contrast to the girl’s own home – “there are no secrets in this house” we sense this may not be the whole truth.

Clinch’s excellent performance reinforces those inclinations towards the supernatural. Wearing an old-fashioned dress, her hair down below her shoulders, she could easily have stepped from the pages of a Victorian children’s story. Playing a largely passive observer, the quiet girl of the title, Clinch is well up to the challenge of communicating her unease through curtailed gesture and nervy pause. Why are there trains on the bedroom wallpaper? Where have these used children’s clothes come from? Answers are hard to come by when, as a child in 1981, you are so often just outside the conversation.

Kate McCullough, among the best Irish cinematographers of her generation, risks jarringly dramatic contrasts between light and shade in her academy-ratio images (it is time for a treatise on why that narrow frame is so in fashion again). A near-sepulchral visit to a night-time beach is properly odd in way that might impress even Michael Powell.

The core revelation, when it comes in near matter-of-fact fashion, does not take us towards anything otherworldly, but Bairéad continues to approach reality from an oblique angle. Stephen Rennicks’s beautiful score builds as Eibhlín counts out her brushing of Cáit’s hair, as if in mystic ritual. Bennett and Crowley, both cautious and unhurried, convey the sense of decent people unable to fully honour their own open natures. Neither can say what the other needs to hear.

The temptation to revel in period detail is thankfully resisted, but the brief glimpse of Bunny Carr in RTÉ quiz show Quicksilver provides enough televisual madeleine to satisfy any passing Proustian. Maybe you still get orange cheese and beetroot for lunch, but that too feels like a relic from another age. Nudging the story into the past helps pull the social barriers up a little higher. It also invites the interpretation that we are looking at a memoir composed decades hence. Opened up to kinder ways of living, an older Cáit will surely play through variations on these memories on a daily basis. An Cailín Ciúin thus becomes a recreation of a perturbing interlude that also, in its unusual way, became something of an idyll. Balancing such contradictions is part of growing up.

Reviewed by Peter Bradshaw | The Guardian

The Quiet Girl review – deeply moving tale of rural Ireland already feels like a classic
A silent child is sent away to live with foster parents on a farm in this gem of a film from first-time feature director Colm Bairéad

This beautiful and compassionate film from first-time feature director Colm Bairéad, based on the novella Foster by Claire Keegan, is a child’s-eye look at our fallen world; already it feels to me like a classic. There’s a lovely scene in which the “quiet girl” of the title, 10-year-old Cáit (played by newcomer Catherine Clinch), is reading Heidi before bedtime, and this movie, for all its darkness and suppressed pain, has the solidity, clarity and storytelling gusto of that old-fashioned Alpine children’s tale – about the little girl sent away to live in a beautiful place with her grandfather.

The setting is the early 80s, in a part of County Waterford where Irish is mostly spoken (subtitled in English). Cáit is a withdrawn little kid, one of many siblings, always wandering off on her own over the farmland: the opening shot of her is a deception of sorts, hinting at a chilling destiny. Cáit is often wide-eyed, silent and watchful, to the irritation of her exhausted and now once-again heavily pregnant mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) and her thuggish, abusive and hungover dad (Michael Patric). Naturally without telling Cáit or being mindful of her feelings in any way, her parents decide they need a break from looking after her and pack the girl off for the summer to her mother’s cousin Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her taciturn farmer husband Seán (Andrew Bennett), whose vastly more prosperous and better-run smallholding infuriates Cáit’s sullen dad when he drives up in his car to drop her off. He can hardly summon the good manners to make conversation before getting back in his car to drive back home and in his boorish haste, he has a lapse of memory which is to have serious consequences for Cáit’s new life.

Crowley and Bennett give heart-wrenchingly excellent performances as the unhappy, childless couple who have taken Cáit in: particularly Crowley as Eibhlín, a well-bred, intelligent, elegant woman who is brightly engaged with the child as no one has ever been in her life. But Cáit is quick to understand that they have a “secret”, which her sneering father already seems to know about.

As this long, hot summer progresses with the endlessness of childhood, Kate McCullough’s superb cinematography and Emma Lowney’s production design create a magically beautiful new world for Cáit to feel at once threatened and exalted by: almost every shot is a vividly composed, painterly gem. Above all, there is a mysterious artificial rainwater pond in surrounding woodland which Eibhlín says has supernatural powers. A vinegary tang of black comedy and cynicism is provided by neighbour Úna (a terrific performance from Joan Sheehy) who looks after Cáit one afternoon and brutally tells the girl all about what her foster parents aren’t telling her – and Bairéad cleverly allows you to suspect that Eibhlín wanted Úna to shoulder the awful burden of revealing this. Cáit’s quietness is perhaps the quietness of an abuse victim, or perhaps the quietness of a clever person who knows that not talking is the way to survive. As Seán tells her: “Many’s the person missed the opportunity to say nothing.” And when Cáit returns home, it is her failure to obey this golden rule, and blurting out the phrase “nothing happened”, which is to cause a new stab of pain.

In another kind of movie, a lazier kind, all this stillness and rural beauty, seen by an enigmatically silent child who is accustomed to vanishing invisibly into the landscape, would be the ominous foretaste of something horrible or violent to come just before the final credits. But The Quiet Girl is doing something gentler than this, as well as realer and truer. It is a jewel.

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Ireland’s nominee for Best International Feature should, in a just world, be up for Best Picture. Do yourself a favor and see it as soon as you can

By David Fear | Rolling Stone

THE girl is named Cáit. She’s 12 years old, doesn’t like attention, stays hidden and silent when she can. Living in the rural Irish countryside in the early 1980s, she’s the youngest of a brood belonging to parents that seem one perpetually short fuse away from exploding. Or rather, she was the youngest — her Ma is six months pregnant. As for her Da, he’s a largely absent, mostly glowering presence capable of inspiring a dread-inducing hush into the household upon entering. Even when he brings Cáit with him to a pub, he’s still just an ominous figure to her, yet another adult downing pints and yet another incentive to be neither seen nor heard.

You get to know this muted youngster over the course of The Quiet Girl, the debut fiction feature from writer-director Colm Bairéad and Ireland’s nominee for Best International Feature at this year’s Oscars. (Most of the dialogue is in Gaeilge, hence the “international feature” nod. In a just world, it would be up for a dozen other categories as well, but why look an award-season gift horse in the mouth?) But for the movie’s first third or so, Cáit is a cypher, someone who keeps her emotions locked away and would disappear entirely if she could. Home is a nightmare. School is worse. Precious few expositional details are given, but there’s enough telltale signs that life is rough for this kid.

Silence often speaks volumes, of course, and as played by Catherine Clinch, Cáit barely needs to say anything to communicate that she’s a walking, if barely talking, cry for help. This is one of those performances where every tiny shift, every movement of her eyes, every tensing up of her posture and wary glance tells you everything you needs to know. Even when Bairéad purposefully keeps us from seeing his heroine’s face for most of The Quiet Girl’s opening prologue, you get the sense that the youngster is wounded beyond her years. “She says as much as she needs to say,” another character notes in defense of Cáit, and it’s to Clinch’s credit that the statement doubles as a description of her portrayal as well. The show-don’t-tell approach may be a necessity (see title) and is completely in line with the source material, Claire Keegan’s 2010 novella Foster, but what she’s doing complements the filmmaking and the storytelling perfectly. It’s a transparent take on someone trying to stay alert and shield themselves simultaneously. (Between Clinch’s work here and what Park Ji-min accomplishes in Return to Seoul, another 2022 holdover that’s just now getting a belated theatrical run, it’s already a great year for first-time actors running laps around veteran thespians.)

The whiff of economic hardship, institutional despair and free-floating misery, the kind so often associated with a certain strain of Irish literature and memoirs, hovers over the proceedings before the movie slightly pivots. Because Cáit’s parents can’t be bothered with her, they decide to send her away for the summer. Her seasonal guardians will be an older couple, Eibhlín (Carrie Crawley) and Seán (Andrew Bennett), who live on a farm; the fact that the woman may be kin is casually mentioned, though it’s hard to tell whether that’s a white lie or not. She’s unceremoniously dropped off, and you start to wonder whether this vulnerable child has officially exited the frying pan and entered a raging, four-alarm fire. The woman seems a little too present and available at first. The man couldn’t be more distant or aloof.

Then the movie begins to gently guide us through their situation as well. “There are no secrets in this house,” Eibhlín tells their young ward. But there has been tragedy, and a lot of emotional rawness and grief have passed through those halls. Bairéad doesn’t switch up his stylistic tics — this is a movie that loves framing characters between tight doorways and through windows; the fact that he’s shooting in a square, Academy aspect ratio only heightens the feeling that everything is a trap — yet he does relax the tone of the film. And slowly, what had felt like a new environment filled with uncertainty and instability begins to give way to something else. Cáit and Seán bond as she helps with chores, and he begins timing her sprints to and from the mailbox down the path. Eibhlín takes her dress shopping. The girl begins to bloom in an environment characterized by nurturing instead of toxic neglect. She even speaks more.

There is a sense that a clock is ticking somewhere, and this feeling of familial love is regrettably finite. The Quiet Girl knows this, and it knows that you know this. How it gets to where this story needs to end, however, is what separates it from every other melodrama that’s used the whole notion of angelic surrogate parents as a way of wringing your tear ducts dry. By the time we get to the climax, we can see that these three have changed, even if the notion of a permanent reset becomes a pipe dream. It’s also not giving anything away to say that it ends on a display of total and utter grace that’s also devastating, and may require theaters to thoroughly waterproof their floors before showings.

Having already swept Ireland’s equivalent of the Academy Awards and won festival accolades, not to mention setting both its young star and its director up for stellar careers should they want them, the film’s appearance among this year’s Oscar contenders feels more like a victory lap than an endgame. One more statue would up its profile, but that’s almost irrelevant. What matters is that The Quiet Girl is, quite simply, a genuine work of art by a genuinely empathetic artist, and one of the single most moving, heartfelt, and heartbreaking movies from any country in the last decade. That only sounds like hyperbole until you see it. After that, the sentence reads as a huge understatement.

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April 24, 2023
7:30 pm