A 9-year-old girl is sent away from her abusive family to live with an older couple, who try to break through her fear and silence to let some love in.
The Quiet Girl, from Irish director Colm Bairéad, is a quiet movie. It’s the story of Cáit, a nine-year-old Irish girl played by Catherine Clinch, who is painfully shy and withdrawn, only speaking when she’s spoken to. So quiet is she that other kids think she’s weird, and when they laugh at her she sometimes wets herself, which then makes them mock her even more. At home she’s treated as a nuisance and is scapegoated for the family’s problems. The mother is always stressed out and overwhelmed. The father is neglectful and distant. No wonder this girl is quiet.
Now the mother is preparing to have a fifth child, and the parents decide to send Cáit to a couple of older relatives, cousins, who live a great distance away on a dairy farm. The woman, Eibhlín, played by Carrie Crowley, is very kind, and she gently welcomes Cáit to their home and the routines and chores of the household. But the husband, Seán, played by Andrew Bennett, seems reluctant to get to know the girl and acts rather stern when showing her how to do tasks on the farm. Cáit is still quiet and on her guard.
Most of the dialogue is in Irish, the original Gaelic language of Ireland. There are still parts of the countryside that speak Irish primarily, although English is the language of the country’s majority and its public life. It’s a rare film that is made in Irish these days, but there’s a yearning among many to keep the language alive, and I’m guessing that might be at least part of the reason that The Quiet Girl became a surprise hit at home, and eventually an entry for International Film at the Oscars.
I don’t remember the film expressly telling us the time period of the story—we see TV and cars, no internet or cell phones. Just from the automobiles, I would say the story takes place in the 1980s. But this is a film of country life, so there’s something timeless and almost outside history about it. Another way this is a quiet movie is that Bairéad focuses our attention on the stillness and beauty of nature, the gentle sounds and sights of country life. To watch the film is to go through a sense of slowing down, letting go of the perpetual movement and anxiety that seems to permeate modern life.
The older couple has their own drama. They’ve been stricken by loss. Their gradual cultivation of a bond with the girl is quite moving—then they face a new problem: the girl’s parents are eventually going to want her back.
Still, all this is primarily the girl’s story. It’s her point of view that holds us in quiet and stillness. The hurt and the fear are not to be surrendered easily. Bairéad carefully tends to his character’s feelings. His style is very patient. In the end, we find that our hearts are breaking. The Quiet Girl is a journey towards love, and what a difficult thing it can be to get there.