A young girl discovers a life she never thought possible in the Irish countryside in Colm Bairéad’s affecting debut feature.
The Quiet Girl made history at the Berlinale this year for being the first-ever Irish-language film to be selected to compete at the festival. The selection for the festival is the culmination of efforts to cultivate more Irish-language cinema through the likes of the Cine4 Development Scheme that assist the production of movies in the minority Irish language. In the process, narrative feature debut director Colm Bairéad has also created one of the best films screening at this year’s event.
There’s a heartfelt simplicity to the film’s story, a rumination on grief’s longevity and pain through the eyes of a child. It’s set in Ireland in the early 1980s following Cáit, a young girl in a cramped family home in rural Ireland filled with siblings and managed by the indifferent affection offered by her mother and father. As the family await the birth of their fifth child, she’s sent to live with two older relatives she’s never met in Eibhlín and Seán for the summer. In this new spacious home on their farm, she forms a close bond with the older couple as she experiences the love and affection she was never provided at home.
The nostalgic warmth of the cinematography contrasts the harsh reality of home life with the dream-like surroundings she’s been introduced to. On the farm, everything Cáit could dream of is hers and the couple are more than willing to provide, despite the tentative nature of their first meeting, and the three form an unforgettable and inseparable connection with one another.
The film’s slowness is perhaps its greatest asset, as it allows us to breathe and live alongside this cast as the mundane tasks of peeling potatoes and running through the trees become fond memories of unconditional love. While our newly-formed surrogate family provides the film’s heart, it’s the Irish countryside that gives us the film’s soul.
Just as much care is put towards capturing the rural beauty of the farm, the sun peeking through the leaves and the warmth of the fireplace as it celebrates the community that forms away from the bustle of it all. At the end of the day, this is their home, and Cáit becomes visibly infatuated by this place while rarely speaking a word. It’s idyllic, almost unreal, like a memory viewed with rose-tinted glasses that’s now her every day, at least for a brief time.
The small, almost-indistinguishable chinks in the armour of this fairy tale are our first clues to how this beautiful Irish countryside has become tainted by loss, with this unspoken grief striking at the core of what once felt so inviting. Grief is the all-consuming shadow that never truly goes away, with any small trigger harnessing the potential to drag us back to an indescribable pain of the moment.
It’s the empathetic,