27 Jul 2022

The Quiet Girl

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 27 July 2022

The Quiet Girl is the slowest of slow burners and by golly it is worth it.

The year is 1981. The place is rural Ireland. Nine-year-old Cáit (played by Catherine Clinch) lives with her parents and several rowdy siblings in a farmhouse that doesn’t boast too much in terms of home comforts (although her father always seems to be able to find funds for pint, a bet or a smoke).

Catherine Clinch as Cáit in The Quiet Girl.

Catherine Clinch as Cáit in The Quiet Girl. Photo: Madman

She’s a sensitive child, called the Wanderer by her father who doesn’t appear to speak Irish which means the rest of the family can separate him from their conversations easily enough. This does not appear to make him any easier to be around.

The mother is heavily pregnant, and a decision is made to send Cáit away to stay with relatives for the summer holidays. One less mouth to feed. The couple she’s going to stay with are distant relatives in more ways than one.

Dad is in such a hurry to leave he drives off with Cáit’s suitcase still in the back of the car and Cáit has to wear hand-me-down boys clothes.

After that start, it’s a while before the wife in the house, Eibhlín (played by Carrie Crowley) can win her trust. Even then, her promise that “there are no secrets in this house” doesn’t prove to be totally true.

Eibhlín and Séan are childless dairy farmers, he stoic and distant and she careful and loving. But where did those clothes come from and why is the wallpaper in Cáit’s bedroom covered with steam trains?

As the summer goes on, Cáit starts to blossom but it’s clear that when the new baby is born, and school starts again she’ll have to return home and what will that mean for the fragile confidence she has found?

There’s a lovely Paul Kelly song called “They Thought I Was Asleep” with a child narrating what they think is happening between their parents while they are in the back of a car on a long journey.

For long periods of The Quiet Girl, Cáit really is invisible to the adults around her. There are lots of sequences in film where the camera focuses on Cáit while we hear snatches of grown-up conversation from the front seat or in another room of the house.

I love the way this film foregrounds Cáit’s experience without trying to explain what’s going on around her and she doesn’t seem perturbed by it, she’s used to it. In fact, not having the attention on her suits her fine.

The wonderful performance by Clinch helps. There’s always something going on and not all of it is anxiety.

Like so many of these types of films there’s an underlying sense of dread throughout, and that perpetual tension might prevent you – like me at times – from relaxing and enjoying the genuine pleasures that it contains but I should point out that – like Chekov’s revolver – any story where a child is introduced to a well in Act One it is guaranteed that well is going to reappear in the story before the end of Act Three. And so it goes.

The Quiet Girl is rated M for offensive language and is in well-curated cinemas now.

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