Brian Ó Tiomáin heralds Colm Bairéad’s Irish language film.

An Cailín Ciúin is based on Foster, a Claire Keegan short story, adapted for the screen by Colm Bairéad, the Director of the film. The film has garnered many awards, including the Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus international jury at the Berlin International Film Festival as well as multiple IFTN nominations.

The plaudits are fully deserved. There may well be more down the road. This is a deeply moving and immersive film, featuring an outstanding performance, from the young lead actress, Catherine Clinch as Cáit, the eponymous ‘Cailín Ciúin’, ‘the quiet girl’ by name and nature. 

The story opens with Cáit’s troubled home life. The relationship between her parents is deeply dysfunctional. Cáit’s mother is expecting her fifth child in a claustrophobic and noisy home which seems on the brink of implosion. 

We see from Cáit’s first appearance that there is much going on beneath her outwardly calm, studied expression. It seems that the chaotic environment may be impacting more on her than her siblings. 

A decision is taken to temporarily move Cáit to a relative’s home until after the birth of the baby. Cáit is fostered out to a much quieter home with no children. While Cáit is warmly welcomed, this house has unresolved tensions of a different nature. When Cáit’s foster mother asserts to her “There are no secrets here”, we suspect that might not be entirely true.

This relationship between Cáit and Eibhlín Cinseallach, played by Carrie Crowley, was, for me, at the heart of the film. There is a chemistry in their on-screen relationship which empowers the emotional moments between them. There seemed to be a mutual healing involved in their encounters.

I also liked the performance of Michael Patric as Cáit’s rakish father. The role could have become a caricature of a father who should not be a father. Patric maintains a detached self-interest, which never veers into outright aggression. His performance is disturbingly credible without being pointed. 

Seán Cinseallach, Eibhlín’ husband (played by Andrew Bennet) seems outwardly to be a decent person.  But his reserve with Cáit re-enforces the feeling that all may not be as it seems in her new home. 

All of the cast deliver fine performances. This would suggest that Director Colm Bairéad has considerable skills in working with actors and that he is very sensitive to what is needed in the scene. He has other skills also. The pacing in the film is relaxed and consistently well judged. This allows the story to develop in a nuanced and subtle manner. 

Indeed, Bairéad shows a confidence as Director which belies the fact that this is his first feature. He succeeds both as Writer and Director in telling this story through the eyes of ten-year-old Cáit. This is achieved with a strong visual flair, often without needing to resort to dialogue to advance the plot. 

The strength of this very visual film is further enhanced by the photography and lighting of Kate McCullough as DOP. The choice of camera angles throughout is always engaging and often inventive, while remaining consistent with the overall tone of the film. 

The use of the background television and radio programmes, sometimes barely audible, is very effective in locating the film back in 1981. That and the selective use of farmyard and other background sounds contribute to the immersive nature of the film which is based in the Ring Gaeltacht in County Waterford.

There are several subtle emotional moments in the film. Those moments, the small silent scenes, were what I liked most. For me, they were critical to the success of the film.

In An Cáilín Ciúin, we have a low-budget film with a relatively simple story which is more absorbing than many high-budget films we see which are wedded to formula and cliché.

The film was produced with the support of the Broadcasting Fund, Fís Éireann and TG4. It is heartening to see yet another Irish language film getting international recognition and a forthcoming cinema release which will be eagerly awaited. The film is also likely to get a UK release.

An Cailín Ciúin heralds the arrival of a new and exciting talent in Bairéad, who said he was moved to tears when he read the source story. He was quoted as saying, “We haven’t maybe looked after the children of our nation as we should have.” 

On reading that quote, I found myself hoping Bairéd might choose to adapt and direct Claire Keegan’s recent best selling novella Small Things Like These, which deals with that same theme in the same era, but in a very different way.

An Cailín Ciúin’ is a five star film.   * * * * *


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