An Cailín Ciúin review
Colm Bairéad has crafted a remarkable and heart-breaking directorial debut. It's playing at the Triskel and Mahon Point this week.
Every family is a story of tragedy and triumph. And every family is shaped by both these forces. An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl) is a beautiful Irish-language film which follows nine-year-old Cáit (Catherine Clinch) from her crowded and chaotic home to a cousin of her mother’s in Waterford where she is packed off to for the summer.
It’s a simple premise: one house has too much, the cup is overfull. Cáit’s mother is expecting; her husband, nominally a farmer, drinks and gambles, and Cáit has fallen through the cracks. Early on in the film it’s decided that she should be shipped off to Waterford, to a bigger house on a farm, where her mother’s cousin Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Seán reside.
For the audience, there are intriguing details which director Colm Bairéad only half fills in or paints in broad strokes. Cáit’s father is the only main character who doesn’t speak Irish; the rest of Cáit’s family do, as do the middle-aged couple in Waterford. It’s an odd dynamic, whereby everybody has to break into English when he’s in a scene. It puts him outside the family at times and in ways that are revealing.
Also, Bairéad leaves the audience guessing as to when the film, which is adapted from a short story by Claire Foster, is set. Early on a postman comes by High Nelly bike with a letter to the family farm; Cait’s father drives what looks like a beat-up Ford Cortina; a game show on TV shows a contestant competing for 20p. Suffice to say it’s set in a time well before mobile phones, likely in the 1980s.
There’s an unsettling quietude running through the film from the title to the final scene. Bairéad is happy to leave the camera lingering, especially in scenes where the silence is almost suffocating. In fact, together with cinematographer Kate McCullough and a beautiful score from Stephen Rennicks, they capture all manners of moods and details in the silence that weaves its way through the film.
In Waterford, it takes time for Cáit to win acknowledgement and approval from Seán (Andrew Bennett), the man of the house. Like her father, Seán’s a farmer, but unlike him we see Seán working, especially in the milking parlour. He’s a serious man, unsettled by the presence of a young child in his house.
In contrast, his wife Eibhlín offers a gentle, embracing love and acceptance of Cáit from the moment she steps out of her father’s car. However, she whispers to Cáit on her first night, when she thinks the girl is sleeping, that if she were her child she would never send her away to live with strangers.
The house in Waterford is a quiet but loving house. Bairéad takes his time to reveal the secrets that go unspoken in the house. The camera spends a lot of time on Cáit; she’s rarely ever animated or reproachful. When she finally makes a connection with Seán it comes via a simple but emotive scene which involves a biscuit and then a shared secret.
Indeed, a secret is pivotal to how the movie unfolds, and the revelation is delivered via the most talkative character in the film, a neighbour, the quintessential busybody archetype who asks the kind of mundane but seemingly important questions that occupy the minds of nosey neighbours: does Eibhlín bake with butter or margarine she inquires of Cáit?
An Cailín Ciúin finishes where it starts, with summer having drawn to an end and Cáit once more back home with her family which has grown by one. There are no hugs on her arrival home (Ireland in the 1980s was a far less hugging country, especially so in Cáit’s house) but over the summer Cáit has come out of her delicate shell as her relationship with Eibhlín and Seán develops. They leave Cáit back with her parents and siblings, but she’s a changed girl. And so too are her foster parents.
An Cailín Ciúin is a heart-breaking and tender film, but also a masterful debut from Bairéad.
Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins Cert 12A