In “The Quiet Girl,” a historical film about Ireland

Irish director Colm Bairéad discovered Claire Keegan’s novel Foster a little later than most.

The “long story short,” as Keegan likes to call it, is told through the eyes of a 9-year-old girl in rural Ireland who leaves her overcrowded, neglectful family in the summer of 1981 to live with distant relatives—an older, childless pair of. There she experiences love and care perhaps for the first time in her life.

Published in The New Yorker in 2010, it won several awards and garnered comparisons to the poetry of Seamus Heaney and the stories of William Trevor.

Bairéad’s adaptation, The Quiet Girl, (now playing in North America) has become less important and is proving to be a watershed moment for Irish cinema. Not only has it broken box office records in Ireland and the UK, but it is also the first Irish film to compete for an Oscar.

And it might not have been possible if Bairéad had come across the story earlier. It was in 2018 when he spotted it on the list of the best works by Irish women. It came out that day, bought it and read it. By the end, he was in tears and dreaming of a way to make it into a movie…in Irish.

“I felt it was something I had to pursue with great conviction,” he said in a recent interview. “It just really affected me. I fell in love with every aspect from his emotional power to his formal qualities. And I found it such a compassionate work. I felt a strong desire almost to protect this young fictional child at the center of him suffering in silence.’

Bairéad has been making short films in the Irish language for a few years, having grown up bilingual in Irish and English. However, although Irish is the country’s official language and on road signs and driving licences, English is the working language, he said. Feature films in Irish were almost non-existent. Before 2017, there had been something like four in movie history.

In recent years, this number has doubled thanks to the Cine4 initiative, a partnership between Screen Ireland, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and Irish public broadcaster TG4, to fund and promote films made in Irish. Now, Irish language films are made every year. But the global profile and recognition of “The Quiet Girl” (or “An Cailín Ciúin”) changed the game.

“There was a big question mark about whether there was an appetite for Irish-language cinema and how it would be received,” he said. “Thankfully the answer to that was a resounding yes.”

A big part of its success is its young star Katherine Klintz, who before “The Quiet Girl” had never acted on camera. Casting had gone on for about seven months in search of the right Cáit, who, among other things, had to speak Irish.

One day, she and her classmates at the Irish language elementary school received a sheet with information about an audition. Klintz went home and made a tape of her mother.

“I almost felt like we could talk her out of it,” Bairéad said. “She was very clever too, because she shot scenes in the right rooms of her house. I remember being impressed by that.”

A chemistry test with Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett, who would play her surrogate family, Eibhlín and Seán Kinsella, sealed it for everyone.

“It was kind of a holy trinity,” he said. “We just knew this was our Cáit.”

Clinch, who is as gentle as her character, had no tricks or tricks to embody the observant, introspective Cáit as she navigates her new surroundings and ties to the Kinsellas.

“I tried, even if he didn’t say anything, to imagine what he would be thinking at that moment,” Klintz said.

“Of course,” added Bairéad.

When she got the part, her friends lovingly teased her that “Katherine is going to the Oscars.”

“But I certainly never thought it would actually happen,” Klintz said.

The success of “The Quiet Girl” and other Irish works such as “The Banshees of Inisherin” is part of what some call a “green wave” in Hollywood. At this year’s Oscars, 14 nominees are Irish, including many of the cast and crew from “The Banshees of Inisherin,” such as writer-director Martin McDonagh, actors Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, actor Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”), editor Jonathan Redmond (“Elvis”) and VFX animator Richard Baneham (“Avatar: The Way of Water”).

“We actually all met during awards season. It was a really great experience,” said Bairéad. “It’s not every day you represent your country. This is a very special moment.”

But beyond the significance for Ireland, what has been most striking to Bairéad has been the uniformity of the response to “The Quiet Girl” since its award-winning debut at the Berlin Film Festival last year.

“Wherever it’s played, whether it’s South Korea or Australia or the UK or France or Spain, I mean, it’s the same response, the same emotional explosion that you get from the audience at the end of the film,” he said. “I think it’s a testament to Claire Keegan’s original source material, which has been translated into many languages. I think the basic elements are really universal to the point where you could probably tell this story anywhere.”


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