’The Quiet Girl’ is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film | Credit: Courtesy

Layers of meaning are contained in the title of writer-director Colm Bairéad’s jewel-like film The Quiet Girl. Yes, the protagonist in question — the nine-year-old Cáit, sent from her troubled family home to a tranquil relatives’ farm for a summer — is by nature quiet and calm on the surface. But beneath and surrounding the seeming calm are demons small and less-small and cruelties of fate in the past. Even so, our heroine manages to maintain poise and composure, and a certain poetic grace.

As the girl goes, so goes this quietly spectacular film. The film, with an added layer of exoticism with its use of the rarely-heard Irish language, qualified as the most introspective contender in this year’s foreign film Oscar race. (As such, Bairéad appeared on the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s International Directors panel last month — with his sure but quiet presence in tow.) What Bairéad has made here is welcome proof that a small, artfully crafted film and human story can cut through the noise of brasher cinematic options.

Cáit’s drunken lout of a father dubs her “the wanderer” and tells her, bidding farewell after dropping her off in the rural outpost, “don’t fall in the fire.” She finds a new and nurturing home on the farm, and we get a sense of dark secrets back home, without explicit details.

As fine and finely calibrated as the film’s cast is, the all-important titular centerpiece is what most astounds us: as Cáit, Catherine Clinch, a first-time actor who director Bairéad found by happenstance after auditioning many potential young actresses, brings a powerful presence, albeit one necessarily minimalist and muted.

Other filmic aspects conspire to create the proper ambience, especially in the form of Kate McCullough’s cinematography. She brings a beautiful visual sensibility throughout, with a kind of warm-yet-gritty film stock effect and selective deep focus shots adding up to a visual voice for the film which virtually becomes a character of its own. Every shot counts, and many are suitable for framing.

Tasteful and spare use of music by Stephen Rennicks also contributes to the sensory symbiosis of this uncommonly sensitive film.

A Quiet Girl is a rare and lingeringly memorable film, offering a view of the world through a child’s eyes, without a sentimentalized filter. Clearly, it’s one of the great cinematic achievements of 2022, without need of overstatement or novelty. By typical cinematic standards, especially those espoused out Hollywood’s way, not much seems to happen over the course of the film. But there is a rich inner life and character arc just below the sight and sound levels before us, conveyed with a refreshingly subtle sense of storytelling. Inference and nuance go a long way here.

As Cáit’s temporary adoptive father gets to know and grows to love the girl, he tells a nosy villager “she says as much as she has to say.” So goes this film.


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