There is a monotony to some of the presentation—the repeated shots of the kitchen, the walk to the well, the daily chores, and Cáit’s wariness slowly melting into trust. The monotony is there for a reason and does serve a purpose, but a little goes a long way.
How little and how long it goes is made perfectly clear in the final sequence, which completely knocked me flat. It was only then I realized just how effectively “The Quiet Girl” did its work. The film works by stealth.
The Irish language is mandatory in Ireland’s school curriculum, but its history is one of suppression. Road signs in Ireland are bilingual, and there is an effort to keep the tradition intact, encouraging a cultural continuum. The history of Irish language films began in cinema’s first decades, with Robert Flaherty’s “Oidhche Sheanchais” (1935), the first Irish language sync sound film. (Long thought lost, it was recently discovered, and a fragment can be seen on YouTube.) Flaherty, famously, directed the “documentary”—quotation marks necessary—“Man of Aran” (1934), which is criticized to this day for Flaherty’s fictionalized version of Irish life, particularly the characters all speaking in English. Other notable entries in Irish-language films are George Morrison’s “Mise Éire” (1959)—a real documentary, this one about the 1916 Easter Revolution—Bob Quinn’s crime drama “Poitín”(1978), the first Irish-language narrative feature, and, more recently, Robert Quinn’s “Cré na Cille” and “Foscadh,” directed by Seán Breathnach. Other Irish films have used the Irish language alongside English, making them essentially bilingual.
“The Quiet Girl” goes all the way and is groundbreaking for its language, as well as its success within a recent movement of accomplished Irish cinema. “An Cailín Ciúin” is significant for these cultural reasons but its power is encapsulated in the small insert shot of a cream-filled cookie placed on a table. In that moment, everything changes. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Available in theaters on February 24th.