Imagine the Hollywood pitch: a young Irish girl who doesn’t speak much is sent by her struggling family to live with distant relatives for the summer.
She has no idea why she is there but she helps around their dairy farm then she comes home.
From this very simple premise, first director Colm Bairéad created The quiet girlan exquisite, restrained story about how people – children and adults – die a little inside when starved for love and warmth.
It’s the early 1980s in rural Ireland and nine-year-old Cáit (Catherine Clinch) struggles with her homework and is an outsider among the most outgoing girls in her class.
At home, her parents are barely coping as the daily grind of poverty robs family life of all but the essentials.
There’s no overt violence, just a grim sense of restraint in a home that lacks money, laughter, and joy.
After school, Cáit sits almost invisible in the pub while her father (Michael Patric) downs his glass before returning to their crowded house and a trapped mother who is pregnant again.
We see it all through the still, non-judgmental eyes of Cáit.
Things happen around her, not for her, and she wants to go unnoticed and out of the way.
We follow her as she overhears snippets of conversation as arrangements are made, then one day she is dropped off to spend the summer with relatives, a man and a woman she does not know. .
“Are there any children here? she asks. “No, just us,” the Eibhlin wife (a gorgeous Carrie Crowley) tells him.
The house is cozy and quiet, and Cáit doesn’t want anything, but there’s a tension in the air that she feels but doesn’t understand.
There are no secrets in this house, he is told. She wears used clothes and settles in, enjoying Eibhlin’s motherly warmth, though Seán (Andrew Bennett) struggles to keep his distance.
But Cáit expects nothing and, over time and without fuss, her relationship with the two of them deepens. She begins helping Seán at the dairy and picking up the mail each day, and he times his runs to the road and back.
Only there is a secret, and a nosy neighbor who pumps Cáit for inside information (Butter or margarine in Eibhlin’s bakery? Where does the dog sleep?) is only too happy to share it with the silent girl who listens a lot but says very little. Then summer ends and Cáit, who now has a little brother, has to go home.
The quiet girlHis great mercy is a moment of catharsis where everything clicks into place and the tidal wave of pent up emotion is allowed to surface, if only briefly.
Filmed entirely in Irish and beautifully acted, it is based on a short story, Fosterby Claire Keegan, and won seven Irish film awards, as well as being the first Gaelic-language film to compete in Berlin.
It’s a perfect and very moving little film told with an unerring grip on its subject, and it reminds us of just how much artistry and power there can be in simple storytelling.