Yes, There’s “The Quiet Girl” After the Oscar Quest ’23 End Credits

A quiet Irish girl stares ahead with her deep blue eyes, expression hidden, her inner monologue unknowable.

If you’re not watching out for the quiet ones, you can bet they’re always watching you.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: I basically finished my annual Oscar Quest and watched as many of the Academy Award-nominated works as I could access between the nominations announcement and the ABC ceremony. As of eight days ago I’d seen 50 of this year’s 54 total nominees. As it happens, one small holdout from across the ocean finally reached our local theaters the same weekend as said ceremony, just barely in time for inclusion.

Writer/director Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl slipped unassumingly and mostly unseen onto the Oscar scorecard for Best International Feature in the shadow of Netflix’s much-ballyhooed All Quiet on the Western Front, sidling next to other small-scale fare like Close, EO, and Argentina, 1985. It’s one of three deeply Irish films synchronously joining the festivities, along with homeland fellows The Banshees of Inisherin and the live-action short An Irish Goodbye. Apropos of its main character, the film has its group memberships yet seems to prefer hanging out on its own.

Based on a 2010 novella by Clare Keegan called “Foster”, the film (titled An Cailín Ciúin in native Irish) is set in a 1981 pastoral town, where the titular young lady Cáit (first-timer Catherine Clinch) is a middle child among at least five kids, none of them a preternatural standout. A beleaguered Mam is pregnant with her sixth (or more?) and Da is a selfish lout and a lousy gambler. Neither are overtly abusive, but it’s clear they have more family than they can handle, or really care to handle. Cáit is a school outcast who rarely talks, can barely read, and frequently ambles outside to hide in the tall grasses and be alone with her thoughts, which I can tell you from experience can be more rejuvenating and less demoralizing than standing alone in crowds. She speaks only Irish, which isn’t isolating in and of itself (her classes are in Irish), but Da’s English fluency demonstrates one of many things he’s never bothered to share with her.

While Mam and Da prepare for their latest mouth to feed, offscreen arrangements are made for Cáit to spend the summer with Mam’s cousin Eibhlín (pronounced “Evelyn”) and her husband Seán. Cáit has never met them, but she goes where she’s sent, silently and with only a faint sign of “No, stop, please, I’ll be good, don’t send me away” in her eyes. After Da drops her off without looking back, within seconds Eibhlín is lovingly, sincerely mother-henning her — digging out some unused clothes for her to wear, teaching her what hot baths feel like, and other new experiences. Seán is slower to warm to her, but eventually emerges from his own shell with light prodding from Eibhlín. Soon he’s recruiting her to help with chores (a familiar concept to her), sneaking her the occasional snack, and having her run and fetch the mail — not because he’s lazy, but because sometimes kids just need to run. And not just for the exercise — for the chance to cut loose, see how fast they can go, and see if they can run faster than that. No one’s ever challenged her in that way before: as a means of encouragement.

Much of The Quiet Girl is a gently-natured traipse-along with Cáit as she gets used to Mr. and Mrs. Cinnsealach (pronounced closer to “Kinsella”) and two things totally alien to her everyday life: small kindnesses and individual, personalized attention. She doesn’t quite become a motormouth under their watch, but she learns it’s okay to open up when appropriate, that she won’t simply be rebuffed, ignored, or scorned. It isn’t a horror movie about foster-parenting gone wrong like Flowers in the Attic or an Omen sequel, though discomforts do come. After so many minutes of gradually intensifying warmth, it’s unsettling when we step back into the normal, far crasser world as Cáit has to spend time with a loudmouth busybody crone from church (an uninspired yet realistic story choice) who reminds her of the sort of folks she’s used to enduring and who reveals a secret about the Cinnsealachs that pokes a hole in her new comfort zone. The hardest part is, of course, when summer begets school’s unwelcome return and the agreement nears its agreed-upon endgame.

The Quiet Girl has no shocking twists and isn’t daring you to second-guess its motives or its plot movements. It’s all about the strength of its performances, particularly young Ms. Clinch as our central introvert. She might seem an enigma to others who pay her no heed, but speaking as I am from the Department of Game Recognizing Game, I’d wager she has a vivid, nonstop internal monologue of her own that’s informed by other people’s success or failure at connecting with her where she is. How well your empathic scanners pick up on our wavelength will ultimately determine how hard the final scene hits you in the chest, as Bairéad chooses to end atop an emotional crest, but not quite in a simplistic comfort zone.

The Quiet Girl poster hanging on an outdoor AMC Theater wall, partly covered by a dead bush.

Even the film’s poster is so shy that it’s trying to hide from us.

Meanwhile in the customary MCC film breakdowns:

Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Tiny films like this rarely feature actors I’ve seen elsewhere, but the cast aren’t all newcomers. Highest-profile among them might be Andrew Bennett (Seán), who narrated Alan Parker’s 1990 film adaptation of Angela’s Ashes. You might’ve missed the rest in the following:

  • Carrie Crowley (Eibhlín) had a recurring role in season 1 of Vikings.
  • Kate Nic Chonaonaigh (Mam) had a tiny part in the 2012 Irish drama Shadow Dancer, which starred To Leslie‘s now-infamous Andrea Riseborough.
  • Michael Patric (Da) had a recurring role on Jason Momoa’s Canadian Netflix series Frontier.
  • Joan Sheehy (the churchgoing gossip) had a tiny role in the 1997 Daniel Day-Lewis film The Boxer.

In conclusion: Ireland! It’s everywhere now!

How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after The Quiet Girl end credits, but they confirm the subtitles were appropriately provided by a company called Telegael. Nearly the entire film is subtitled, even when the adults switch to English, except one critical line at the very end left untranscribed — two words that transcend all communication gaps and say everything.

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