This may be a small-scaled and simple story, but that’s misleading in regards to the film’s humanist, spiritual power and its emotional intelligence. Not everyone is cut out to be a good mother or father: some are born to it but have their chance at being a parent cruelly snatched away, and some adults cause a great deal of hurt and upset to children without giving enough thought to what they do and don’t say. In a memorable example of this, a nosy neighbour (Joan Sheehy) walks Cáit home from a wake and just through her incessant gossiping insensitively spills open traumatic family secrets, upsetting the peaceful equilibrium of Cáit’s new home life in the process.
Every frame from cinematographer Kate McCullough is a light-dappled painting and there are some beautiful, unassuming moments of wisdom in the naturalistic dialogue, but the biggest emotional punches often come in near-silence. A frosty relationship taking a turn for the better through a wordless biscuit transaction; the camera close in on Catherine Clinch’s face as she registers true happiness for the first time; the satisfaction and security in daily routines and rituals; having her hair gently brushed or being bathed and feeling the warmth of unconditional love.
Appropriately given the film’s English title, dialogue is sparing, yet one small and unshowy dialogue scene or display of quiet affection between Cáit and her uncle Seán packs such a powerful punch it stands in for any amount of forced third-act jeopardy a storyteller might contrive. Composer Stephen Rennicks, regular collaborator with Lenny Abrahamson on films like Room, also provides one of the most simply emotive string-heavy scores of recent times ensuring that if the performances and imagery haven’t quite reduced you to bittersweet tears yet, a few delicate notes of his music is all-but guaranteed to bring on the waterworks.
Every family in the world faces unique trials, and naturally quiet people in particular can suffer the most for not being able to speak up about what they are not receiving and are sorely in need of. This isn’t a fairy tale but a snapshot of real life, and as such not everything will be neatly resolved by the end. As Uncle Seán so memorably puts it, “Many’s the person missed the opportunity to say nothing and lost much because of it,” and those are words to truly live by. The Quiet Girl has so much going on behind its eyes, and like the best poetry evokes universal expressions of love with a fragile tenderness and great beauty.