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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
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. 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. Cáit is a withdrawn little kid, one of many siblings, always wandering off on her own over the farmland: the opening shot of her is a deception of sorts, hinting at a chilling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 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).
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. A vinegary tang of black comedy and cynicism is provided by neighbour Úna who looks after Cáit one afternoon and brutally tells the girl all about what her foster parents aren’t telling her.
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.