Sunday (on Thursday) Stories: The Quiet Girl
The Irish film you should see but probably haven't: Colm Bairéad’s "An Cailín Ciúin" (aka "The Quiet Girl"), shortlisted for an Oscar, contains multitudes in its hushed tenderness.
Spending much of the last fortnight like a Brontë sister, feeling mostly ever-so-crappy as if someone had removed my batteries and thrown me down the stairs, does have its benefits. Because I have trouble finding words and concentrating (thanks Lyme disease!), I have had a chance to catch up on a few of the films I’d previously missed that are popping up on awards season lists, including two top Irish contenders, The Banshees of Inisherin and An Cailín Ciúin (aka The Quiet Girl).
I have never expected to love a film more than The Banshees of Inisherin, starring two of my favourite actors, Brendan Gleeson (as Colm Doherty) and Colin Farrell (as Pádraic Súilleabháin), and been left more bereft after a viewing. The performances are brilliant — Gleeson, Farrell, and Barry Keoghan (as Dominic Kearney) deserve all the plaudits coming their way) — Ben Davis’ cinematography from Inis Mor and Achill Islands is staggeringly beautiful, and the story is so bloody sad, absent even a frayed gossamer thread of enduring hope, at least to my eyes and heart, that I just … I’m so sorry I didn’t like it more. It’s brutally depressing. And that’s not even taking into consideration the wee donkey. IYKYN.
The other Irish contender this year, An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl, is exquisite. It broke my heart into a thousand pieces, but didn’t leave it in a ditch buried under several tons of turf the way Banshees had.
(There is a third Irish film also in contention, but in the short film category, called An Irish Goodbye that I feel certain I would love but so far have not been able to locate online or anywhere else for that matter — like most of you, I am not a voting member of any of the awarding bodies so don’t get the benefit of screeners —which apparently also has been shortlisted for an Oscar. If I ever figure out how to view it, I’ll let you know.)
Anyway, back to An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl …
The film, with dialogue almost entirely in Irish with English subtitles, is, as described, quiet. Subtle. It is also, in its way, a slow film, if not by the strict cinematic definition of that genre that longtime readers will know I love so well.
Gentle and intimate but also unflinching when it stares cruelty and trauma in the face, writer and director Colm Bairéad’s An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl follows the journey of nine-year-old Cáit (Catherine Clinch in a performance as stellar as any I’ve seen among the contenders), an introspective and introverted child, one sibling among at least nine children in an economically struggling family in rural Ireland. Set in 1981 (Cáit and I would be about the same age now), when we first meet the young protagonist, she is hidden among the tall grass as her mother calls for her over and over again. As the camera pans back, she emerges from her bed in the dense uncut hayfield where she has been either dozing or daydreaming, but clearly trying to escape from the chaos (real and emotional) inside her family house in the distance.
I have a memory similar, if happier, to this from my childhood — lying in a large field of tall grass, staring at the clouds, lost in revery. There are other moments in the film that propelled me back in time: Cáit watching the play of light and shadow on the windows of the family car as she rides in the back seat, dust glittering in a beam of light through the curtains in her cousin’s house, the sound of car wheels on a gravel laneway, the smell of dew and earth on a cool summer morning.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot so as not to give any of its treasures away, but I will say that it revolves around seemingly small gestures of common kindness and cruelty that have the power to shape the consciousness, and, I would argue, the spirit, of a child. And of those of adults, as well.
Cáit is quiet. She says very little with words, but communicates oceans more without them. There is an exchange between the young girl and Sean, the middle-aged husband of her mother’s cousin, Eibhlin, that I wanted to share (and that was the catalyst for this short dispatch from my continuing convalescence).
It’s after nightfall, and they are sitting at the edge of a body of water (a sizeable loch, I would guess), after an evening where the petty callousness of another adult caused Cáit, Eibhlin, and Sean to revisit deep-seated trauma, pain, and fears.
As they sit quietly watching lights in the distance, Sean says:
Strange things happen sometimes, don't they?
Something strange happened to you tonight. But Eibhlin didn't mean any harm.
She wants to find the good in other people...hoping she won't be disappointed...
but sometimes she is.
You don't have to say anything.
Always remember that.
Many's the person missed the opportunity to say nothing, and lost much because of it.
“You don’t have to say anything. Always remember that.”
In this strange season of my life, I’m trying to take that wisdom to heart. On Sunday, the day I watched An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl for the first time, I was in the midst of writing something for you, but I felt so sick and exhausted, sad and twitterpated, that I couldn’t quite get what I wanted to say out of my mind and onto the page. I began to castigate myself for not getting it done better or sooner and then I thought about Sean’s advice. And how kindness, even and perhaps especially to one’s self, can transform a moment, a life, the world.
Just so. I closed the document, saved a draft post, and went to rest some more. I’ve been mostly quiet these last several days, trying to let the stillness and self-compassion work their tender healing until I had something I felt I wanted to say.
An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl will have a limited release in U.S. theaters next month. If you can find it there or online (fire up those VPNs), please watch it, and remember that sometimes the kindest thing to say is nothing at all.
My intention is to be back on Sunday with a longer reflection on cultivating kindness. Until then try to be as brave and as kind as you can be. Remember that you have not met yet everyone who will love you, and you have not met yet everyone you will love.
Much love from me,