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‘The Quiet Girl’ is a meditation on loneliness and the power of love

Nominated for the best international feature Oscar, writer-director Colm Bairéad’s Irish-language film is as beautiful as it is devastating

Catherine Clinch as Cáit in a scene from “The Quiet Girl,” written and directed by Colm Bairéad.Super Ltd

“The Quiet Girl” (“An Cailín Ciúin”), in theaters Friday, is the first film in the Irish language to be nominated for the best international feature Academy Award. Told from the perspective of its 9-year old protagonist, Cáit (Catherine Clinch), writer-director Colm Bairéad’s adaptation of Claire Keegan’s 2010 novella, “Foster” is as beautiful as it is devastating.

Leisurely paced, like a day on the rural farms where it is set in 1981, “The Quiet Girl” opens with an image of Cáit hiding in a field, ignoring her mother’s call. Her home life is anything but pleasant. She is tormented by her siblings, her pregnant Mam (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) seems indifferent to her suffering, and her Da (Michael Patric) is an irresponsible gambler who may also be carrying on an affair.


School is no better. Cáit is seen as “a weirdo” by her peers and is subject to constant abuse, which only draws her more deeply into her shell.

“Which one is this?” asks the strange woman Da picks up in his car while Cáit is in his backseat. “This one’s the wanderer,” he replies, indicating Cáit. It’s no wonder “the wanderer” spends as much time as she can alone, hidden and in silence. Her quest to be invisible is the only thing she has some control over, the one modicum of peace she can afford.

Since one less mouth to feed will save her impoverished family money while they await the birth of its newest member, Cáit is sent to live with a distant, older cousin, Eibhlín Cinnsealach (Carrie Crowley) and her husband, Seán (Andrew Bennett). The couple does not like Da, something Cáit picks up on immediately, and they like him even less after he drives off with Cáit’s suitcases in his car.

The Cinnsealachs appear to be childless. Seán seems reluctant to warm to their new houseguest, but Eibhlín immediately takes a shine to Cáit. She bathes her, speaks kindly, does not shame her for a nighttime bedwetting accident, and brushes her hair 100 times. She also finds some clothing for her to wear in the closet of the bedroom where Cáit sleeps. They’re boys’ clothes, a detail that hints at a possible secret.


“There are no secrets in this house,” Eibhlín reassures Cáit. At least there aren’t any between the two of them.

Catherine Clinch (left) as Cáit is greeted by Carrie Crowley as Eibhlín in a scene from “The Quiet Girl.”Super Ltd

After Seán yells at Cáit for wandering off, we fear that he is just another clone of Da. A small gesture changes our opinion. Bairéad stages it so subtly that I’m surprised how powerfully it hit me. Before he leaves for his farm work, Seán finds Cáit sitting in the kitchen. Without saying a word, he leaves a cookie on the table for her before walking out.

I do the scene no justice with my description. But all I could think about was how gentle and sweet a peace offering this was, and how, perhaps, this small gift was the first kindness shown to Cáit by a male authority figure. It was not the first time “The Quiet Girl” put a lump in my throat.

Cáit and Seán form their own bond while working on the farm together. For a while, “The Quiet Girl” becomes idyllic, like a summer vacation, as we watch Cáit respond to the love she is given. She still remains silent much of the time, cautiously observing her new world, but Clinch’s superb acting lets us see how she is changing for the better.


Andrew Bennett (left) as Seán and Catherine Clinch as Cáit.Super Ltd

“You don’t have to say anything,” Seán reassures Cáit. “Always remember that. Many’s the person missed the opportunity to say nothing and lost much because of it.”

All is not sunshine and flowers, despite Kate McCullough’s lush cinematography depicting the Irish countryside as lovingly as possible. The ominous, cruel detail “The Quiet Girl” won’t let us forget is that, eventually, Cáit will have to return to her neglectful home after experiencing what it feels like to be nurtured and appreciated. Crowley and Bennett are so good in their roles that they become the ideal parent substitutes without a hint of artifice. They make you feel their love.

“The Quiet Girl” has no regard for the typical Hollywood ending. Instead, it closes on an image that will simultaneously fill you with hope and tear out your heart.



Written and directed by Colm Bairéad. Based on the novella “Foster” by Claire Keegan. Starring Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Kate Nic Chonaonaigh, Michael Patric. At Coolidge Corner and Landmark Kendall Square. 94 minutes. PG-13 (F-bombs, children in peril)

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.