The Quiet Girl review: A quietly moving triumph
Cathy Brennan | On 13, May 2022
Director: Colm Bairéad
Cast: Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett
To see the world through the eyes of a child is to gaze in innocent ignorance, brushing against invisible scars. If there is one quality that makes The Quiet Girl stand out, then it’s the way the film makes the audience see things from the perspective of nine-year-old Cáit (Catherine Clinch).
Already neglected by her alcoholic father and plethora of older sisters, the diminutive Cáit is sent to live on a farm with childless couple Eibhlín (Carrie Cowley) and Seán (Andrew Bennett) when her mother becomes pregnant again. Eibhlín and Seán are polarised in their reaction to Cáit’s presence, which sparks questions about their motivation in taking this child in. Eibhlín immediately swaddles Cáit in maternal affection while Seán initially keeps the child at arm’s length. Astute viewers may guess at what is going on, yet because this story is being told from Cáit’s point of view, clues are gradually revealed in a way that’s understated and emotionally honest.
Cáit is a child whose oppressive life at school and home have made her shrink into herself. She rarely speaks throughout the film and, when she does, it’s always at the softest volume, trembling above the border of whisper. Children are often sensitive observers of the world who zero in on things that adults may gloss over and this characteristic is only amplified in Cáit by her circumstances. The camera therefore brings the audience into Cáit’s character by dwelling on the minute details of a scene: cigarettes lounging in an ashtray, a biscuit on the kitchen table, the picture of a train printed onto bedroom wallpaper. In binding the camera’s perspective with Cáit’s, The Quiet Girl injects the film with genuine character that goes beyond dialogue.
This attention to detail adds texture to a simple premise. Eibhlín’s gentle concern for Cáit’s home life manifests in her repeated query: is your mother alright? This is a gentle film, but that simple question is loaded with a wider, painful history of domestic abuse, as well as the hope of solidarity between women. It goes to show again how understatement can be imbued with power. On the other side of the gender divide, Bennett’s measured performance as Seán demonstrates how male gruffness might not always be a sign of aggression but an expression of sorrow and pain.
The performances by the central trio deliver these emotional rhythms, but director Colm Bairéad’s considered use of space draws them beyond gesture and into the visual language of the film. Framing a humble Irish farmhouse in striking compositions that go on to reflect the emotional stakes of a scene is one of the film’s most impressive feats. An empty door frame, or the patterns of staircase carpet shot from the landing become so much more.
The Quiet Girl is already historic for being the first Irish-language film to compete at the Berlin International Film Festival and win an award. This certainly heralds promise and fanfare, yet to dwell exclusively on this when watching the film risks missing the wondrously well-observed storytelling on display. Watching Cáit’s relationship with Eibhlín and Seán deepen into love rises above the bombast of modern film-making to become one of the most powerful stories on screen in 2022.