Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Quiet Girl: A theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 165 plus films later, here is the review for September 2022.

The Quiet Girl
A film review by Dr Steve Taylor

“The Quiet Girl” rewards, but requires considerable patience. Cait (Catherine Clinch), a lonely child from a low-income family, is farmed out to distant relatives. In the hands of Eibhlin Cinnsealach (Carrie Crowley) and Sean Cinnsealach (Andrew Bennett), through simple acts of fingernails being scrubbed, hair brushed, and money offered as a treat, we witness Cait begin to flourish.

The movie (“An Cailín Ciúin” in the Irish) is based on Foster, Claire Keegan’s 2010 novella. In 2022 “The Quiet Girl” gained eight Irish Film and Television Academy awards, including best Irish film. Despite these accolades, the movie requires persistence. Time is slowed by sounds– the cuckoo’s call, the clock’s tick, the cry of a baby. Set in Ireland, with much of the dialogue in Irish, the occasional subtitle is lost.

First-time director Colm Bairéad works hard. The camera work is superb, capturing the summer splendour of rural Ireland. The plot is skilfully strengthened through delightful parallelism. Rhubarb appears twice, puncturing domestic tensions with garden humour. Runs recur, initially away from school, then timed toward letterboxes and back, finally toward embrace.

The acting is superb, particularly Catherine Clinch as the quiet Cait. Her vulnerability and growing joy as she finds the freedom to play are a delightful reminder of the transforming power of love. There are equally strong performances from Carrie Crowley as Eibhlin Cinnsealach and Andrew Bennett as Sean Cinnsealach. While Cait is the quiet girl, Sean names the wisdom of silence. In the face of a neighbour’s probing and destructive questions, he offers insight. “You can be quiet.” Sean’s sage advice provides needed wisdom as Cait returns to her family.

A movie set in Ireland tends to offer plenty for the theologically imaginative. “The Quiet Girl” is no exception, with religion evident in the rosaries held in dead hands and the priests who request their communities to pray for rain.

Light also does theological work in “The Quiet Girl”. The reflection of light and forest as water is scooped from the well evokes the wisdom of thirteenth-century English mystic Julian of Norwich. In Revelations of Divine Love, Julian wrote of how all of creation is enclosed in every little thing. Whether a small hazelnut or, in the case of “The Quiet Girl”, a scoop of water, we witness visual evidence that God made it; God loves it; God keeps it.

Another way to work imaginatively with film is to bring gospel stories into dialogue with specific scenes. As Cait returns home, Athair Chait (Michael Patric) announces, “The prodigal has come back.” His use of Biblical language sets up the emotionally charged final scene, in which, like the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:20, the Quiet Girl is enveloped in the loving embrace of Sean Cinnsealach. Her one word, “Daddy,” is enough. A relationally impoverished childhood lost has been redeemed through persistent acts of care and attention. It is a rewarding and richly satisfying ending, a fitting reward for the patient viewer.

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

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