The debut feature film from the Irish documentary maker Colm Bairéad has earned plaudits both in Ireland and abroard, culminating in its nomination for the 2023 Academy Awards (Best International Film category). Bairéad both wrote the screenplay, based on the 2010 English-language novella Foster by Irish writer Claire Keegan, and directed the film, and his background in documentary is evident from the way he approaches the subject. There is a lot of “show not tell”, and a key line in the film (spoken in Irish) is “Many’s the person missed the opportunity to say nothing.”
Though promoted as an Irish language film, An Cailín Ciúin is really a dialogue between the two languages of Ireland. While this is ocassionally reductive – Irish as the language of family and love, English as the language of the “strangers in the house” – it serves to accentuate the alienation of the girl, Cáit, and deepens the emphasis on “secrets”, the chief motif of a film set in the early-1980s, a period of myriad cover-ups, from physical and sexual abuse to political murder.
There is an interesting contrast with the other Irish-set period film that has been nominated for the Oscars, Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin. While that employs the tropes of the Gaelic Revival for laughs (the ominous crone, the emotional support donkey), An Cailín Ciúin is sincere, with its magical well water, references to Tír na nÓg (the Land of Youth) and its startlingly green grass.
“That verbal scarcity demands especially sincere performances from Clinch, Crowley and Bennett. Clinch is the discovery in a role that would seem to require maturity beyond her years.” Jennifer Green, Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
“Kate McCullough, among the best Irish cinematographers of her generation, risks jarringly dramatic contrasts between light and shade … A near-sepulchral visit to a night-time beach is properly odd in a way that might impress even Michael Powell.” Donald Clarke, Irish Times