It seems a modest little story at first, a cinematic wallflower content to cling to the corners of its tight, boxed-in aspect ratio, rather than thrust itself on to the audience. But while The Quiet Girl, Colm Bairéad’s multi-award-winning Irish-language drama, might be small in scale, it’s one of the most exquisitely realised films of the year. There’s a kinship with Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman in the crystalline delicacy of the storytelling and the way it plays on the heartstrings like a harp. It also calls to mind the earliest work of Lynne Ramsay – her first feature, Ratcatcher, and short film Gasman – in the way Kate McCullough’s curious camera latches on to the small details that are magnified in the eyes of a child.
The quiet girl is Cáit (the remarkable Catherine Clinch), one of an ever-expanding brood of neglected kids on an impoverished smallholding in early-80s rural Ireland. With her mother expecting yet another baby, and her father skulking sullenly in the background like an unspoken threat, Cáit is sent to stay with distant relatives: warm, wise Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) wraps her in love immediately; Seán (Andrew Bennett) is taciturn and reserved but no less bonded to the child. Under their care, Cáit blossoms. “All you needed was some minding,” says Eibhlín.
It’s an accomplished work from first-time feature director Bairéad, who, appropriately, has the knack of telling us everything we need to know without words: a tense momentary standoff over some sticks of rhubarb, for example, is more eloquent than pages of dialogue could ever be.