One of those moments occurs not long after the title character, a young girl named Cait (Catherine Clinch, making an astonishingly assured debut), has been shipped off to stay with relatives by her parents: Da, a surly, boozing philanderer (Michael Patric), and his pregnant, put-upon wife (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh), Mam, neither of whom is ever identified by a name. Cait’s older sisters will stay with this dysfunctional dynamic while Mam prepares to deliver her latest child. Presumably, Mam and Da want Cait, known as the Wanderer, out of their hair.
Dropped off at the farm of Mam’s cousin Eibhlin Cinnsealach (pronounced like Evelyn Kinsella and played by Carrie Crowley) and her husband, Sean (Andrew Bennett), an older, childless couple who are still grieving a loss, Cait soon lets it be known where she gets her nickname, meandering out of Sean’s sight one day while helping him with his chores. When he scolds her in alarm — out of not anger but buried pain — it tells us so much about what might have happened to this couple, without articulating precisely what the trauma is, at least not just yet. And when Sean apologizes to Cait the next day, not in words, but by silently placing a cookie next to her breakfast plate and then hurrying out of the kitchen, mute with inarticulate emotion, “The Quiet Girl” is, ironically, at its most eloquent. Cait may not understand what just happened, but we do.
Directed by Colm Bairead, and based on the short story “Foster” by Claire Keegan, this is a tale in which, by the standards of Hollywood, at least, not terribly much happens. Yet in her short sojourn with the Cinnsealachs, Cait discovers a way of life — a way of loving and of being loved unconditionally — that is utterly foreign to her. And in this quiet girl, her foster parents find something, too: a kind of healing.
Much of this magic transpires in the silences, which Bairead fills with shots of sunlit green grass and telling glances. “The Quiet Girl” is that rare thing: a work of storytelling that speaks most loudly when it is saying nothing.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains some strong language, smoking and mature thematic material. In Irish and some English with subtitles. 94 minutes.