»The Quiet Girl«: Surprising Emotional Intelligence

in 67th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Esteve Soler Miralles

“Less is more.” This idea, championed by creators as different as Samuel Beckett and Stephen Sondheim, is applied with unwavering force in The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúlin, 2022), the fiction feature directorial debut film from Colm Bairéad. Although the Golden Spike of the Seminci at the Valladolid International Film Week went to the Chinese film Return to dust (Yin ru chen an), by Li Ruijun, the general feeling was that the competition’s big winner was this little film, which took home the FIPRESCI  prize, the audience prize, and the Silver Spike: an implicit consensus of the film’s ability to reach all types of audiences.

The Quiet Girl is a triumph of indirect narration, constantly finding ways to suggest things left unexplained regarding a couple charged with caring for a little girl. The film places us in Ireland in 1981, in a rural community subject to shortages and tensions, conditions that affect the life of Cáit, a reserved nine-year-old girl completely neglected by her large family. Although Cáit is a prodigy of discretion and responds to any of the adversities she encounters at school and at home with stoic silence, her parents decide to send her to live with distant relatives as they await the imminent arrival of a new brother. The Kinsellas welcome Cáit with a completely different attitude to that of her parents, much warmer and more positive, providing a space where the girl will be able to apprehend new points of view. But hidden secrets will soon be revealed—and this is why The Quiet Girl is a film that stands out.

With his masterful narration, Bairéad sets the stage for these secrets from the film’s first moment, but it is only when they are exposed that spectators will realize their omnipresence, forcing spectators to reconsider their interpretation of what they have seen so far. This is why the ending is surprisingly emotional,  generating enormous applause—perhaps the most intense of the festival—at its screening in Valladolid. The Quiet Girl is a film that will not be forgotten; with its surprising emotional intelligence, it continues to develop in the mind of the viewer long after the credits roll. Adapting Claire Keegan’s short story “Foster,” Colm Bairéad has constructed a script where the loneliness of adults is shown to be as bleak and hurtful as the solitude of children. Bairéad’s remarkable experience as a documentarian and Kate McCullough’s sensitive cinematography combine to create a balance between verisimilitude and poetry that is exceptional.

The Quiet Girl may seem like a small and modest film, but its potential is enormous as evidenced by the awards at the Seminci, Berlin, and the Irish Film & Television Awards, where it prevailed over Kenneth Branagh’s popular Belfast. The fact that Ireland has made the film its Oscar contender suggests that its potential for acclaim is far from exhausted. All of this, along with Bairéad’s distinct style, makes us seriously consider him to be one of the most promising voices in the current cinematographic scene.

Esteve Soler Miralles
Edited by José Teodoro