An Cailín Ciúin – Film Review
by Brian Merriman
Director and Screen adaptation: Colm Bairéad
Producer: Cleona Ní Chrualaoi of Inscéal.
Original short story: Foster by Claire Keegan
Starring: Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett
Duration: 90 minutes
This new Irish film was funded by Screen Ireland, TG4 and the BAI as part of the Cine4 scheme. Subtitled with some bilingualism, as TG4 has proven, the Irish language is not only accessible but entirely appropriate in this gentle, layered drama that captivates from the outset.
There was a long tradition in Ireland of a child from a large family being sent to relatives, especially those without children, to be reared. I’m not sure this is what would be described today as ‘fostering’, but the film captures that sense of separation experienced by the child chosen to go to older and unfamiliar relatives.
Catherine Clinch debuts as Cait, the chosen child of a dysfunctional family, as yet another sibling is expected. It is an impressive debut from the highly photogenic Clinch who has already mastered the power of on-screen communication without much dialogue. This should be the first of many screen appearances by the young star.
The setting is rural Ireland in 1981, with suitable locations and lush backdrops a reminder of our spectacular scenery. The contrast in human emotion and the healing presence both of the child and the love of decent adults permeate the carefully structured plot, as it gently but deliberately unfolds.
Carrie Crowley, an established Irish actress, is not seen enough on our screens. She emotes beautifully throughout as Eibhlin whose caring nature reaches out, despite her own back story, to offer help to her pregnant cousin who is struggling. The introduction of a child into the Kinsella household that is still coping with tragedy is a considerable risk for them but Eibhlin is that neighbour often called upon for help in a time of crisis.
The strength of Eibhlin and her husband Sean’s (Andrew Bennett) relationship shines through as they accept the challenge and embrace the quiet child. It is a summer that Cait will never forget. There is wisdom and experience in their parenting. There is nature and nurture on the farm. This is not a guaranteed happy ending – it is paced, managed, as empathy and eventual love grow and heal.
The wisdom of the Kinsella house is captured by Eibhlin’s first piece of advice ‘If there are any secrets in a house, there is shame in the house’. It Is Ireland in 1981. There were too many secrets – the norm at the time.
There are fine supporting performances in Cait’s parents, the struggling Mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) and the more sinister presence of Michael Patric’s Father. Joan Sheehy’s ‘Una’ is a triumph as the nasty neighbour!
‘Many the person has lost the opportunity to say nothing’ says Sean…the silence in this screenplay often conveys the most information. Director/writer Colm Bairead is a master of his craft. The care in his communication drives this visual treat. The well water, the farm environment, the pouring of a drink. There is time for everything during this summer that passes all too fast for Cait and leaves the tragic Kinsella’s healing.
Bairead’s debut is not only quality but excites at the prospect of yet another Irish film artist with so much to look forward to as he extends his portfolio through future projects.