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Review: The Quiet Girl

March 2, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The first film in the Irish language to be nominated for Best International Feature at the Oscars, The Quiet Girl is a tender and poignant coming of age film that shows a painfully shy young girl finally blossoming in the right care, and it’s a thing of quiet beauty to watch unfold.

The title girl is Cáit (Catherine Clinch), a nine-year-old growing up in rural Ireland in the early 1980s, whose cash-strapped parents are struggling to support her and her siblings. Her father (Michael Patric) has taken to drinking, while her mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) is preoccupied with a new baby on the way.

To lessen the burden of raising her, Cáit is sent to live with her mother’s distant relatives Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and Seán (Andrew Bennett) over the summer on their farm. They are an older couple without kids of their own to raise.

When Cáit arrives, she is selectively mute, but blossoms in their care, and starts opening up around them. Eibhlín is quick to provide comfort, as she gives her a bath and puts her to bed. Seán is more stoic, but warms up to her in his own way by letting Cáit help around the farm, teaching her the satisfaction of a job done well. The routine that they provide offers her the stability that she so sorely needs.

Written and directed by Colm Bairéad, who does a wonderful job of adapting a short story by Claire Keegan to feature length, The Quiet Girl is a patient film that often takes its time, balancing the hurried way that Cáit is treated at home with the calm care that she receives from Eibhlín. In an early scene, the messiness of her home life is juxtaposed with the immaculate cleanliness of Eibhlín’s kitchen, when her father brings her to drop her off. It’s these beautifully observed little details, showing the small moments when Cáit‘s life starts to change, that lend the film it’s evocative power.

The lovely cinematography by Kate McCullough (Normal People) shows things from Cáit’s pre-teen perspective, including how she sees the adults around her. Clinch carries the film with her remarkably subtle performance, portraying both Cáit’s inquisitive, childlike nature, while also showing a deep well of emotional intuition in the way that she silently observes every situation, barely wanting to make a sound until she knows if it is safe to do so.

Even if we can somewhat tell where the simple, fairly straight-forward story is going, this in no way lessens its impact, and The Quiet Girl does an incredibly effective job of telling it. This is a quiet, gentle film that builds to an emotionally powerful ending that hits us slowly and then all at once, showing the profound impact that having someone who simply cares about you can have you on as a child.

The Quiet Girl opens exclusively in limited release on March 3rd, including at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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