The Quiet Girl
One of Oscar’s newly nominated Best International Feature of 2022, “The Quiet Girl,” made its debut at local theaters this month with, to me, a splendid chance to win the trophy. It has a new wrinkle, too, because—though “Irish”—it is placed in the international category because it is, indeed, in the original Irish tongue, a foreign language to the rest of the English-speaking world. It also showcases one of the best child performances in years (the film, which opened in late February, is now in local cinemas; it is rated “PG-13,” and runs 94 minutes).
That touching and resonant child is Cáit (played by Catherine Clinch), an unassuming, very reticent 9-year-old child in 1981 Ireland. She lives on a shabby farm within a dysfunctional family of six: her dull, repressed Mam (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) , two unremarkable sisters, a baby, and, her father, the coarse and irresponsible Da (Michael Patric), who gets his smarts from the bottom of a beer bottle. Cáit is the mute observer of her family dynamic, internalizing the family’s petty missteps and quarrels and being a witness to the loveless marriage of her parents.
That dynamic reaches a breaking point when the wife stumbles into another witless pregnancy, and Da, knowing he cannot care for his growing brood, decides to relieve the family of another mouth to feed by farming out stolid Cáit to a distant country cousin, a move to which she succumbs without question. The new foster family, a childless older couple, lives miles away in another part of rural Ireland.
Cáit’s new home is better kept than her own, with a warmer feel. Most of that warmth comes from the wife, Eibhlin (touchingly played by Carrie Crowley), while the husband Séan (Andrew Bennett), is a prototype taciturn farmer who speaks more easily to his cows than to any humans around. He stands apart from the girl, decent but distant, and, though their interactions are at first halting, they begin to slowly connect by doing chores around the place.
That is pretty much all there is to the plot of the movie, but one notes the forming of a relationship ever so slowly: through wearing rough boots in the slough, by absorbing recipes, through working the milking machines at night, by giving straight answers to tentative questions. It is a delicate weaving of domestic ties that little Cáit has never experienced.
Clinch is a wonder in the film, a revelation of restraint and sweetness. She is an all-seeing eye whom you see coming out of her delicate shell.
The film was made by Colm Bairéad who also wrote the screenplay from a novella by Claire Keegan called Foster. His direction is enhanced enormously by exquisite, concentrated photography by Kate McCullough and a subtle, suggestive score by Stephen Rennicks.
Sure, and it’s a wonder to behold.
“Freedom’s Path” is a Civil War drama with a distinctive perspective. It focuses principally on a group of free, autonomous Black Americans living in the south on the fringes of the war (This film, now in select AMC and Regal theaters, runs 131 minutes and is not rated).
It opens, however, telling the tale (with nods to Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage”) of an unseasoned, White Union soldier, William (Gerran Howell). In his very first foray into battle, he is terrified and decides to flee, covering his cowardice by stabbing himself in the thigh with his bayonet and pretending to be dead among the casualties.
Now roaming out on his own, crushed and limping, he is discovered by a young, charismatic Black man, Kitch (RJ Cyler), who helps him find aid within a community of Black farmers. Rather than capture or kill William, Kitch brings him to a small ranch where his extended family accepts William and cares for his wounds.
The two young men, initially suspicious of each other, slowly bond over farm work, chores, fishing, chats on a porch, and dips in a lake. Living close to the Union border, Kitch and his family are already active in the Underground Railway, shepherding runaways across the line.
But their almost idyllic life ends when the nearby war impinges directly on their community, and a gang of nasty slave hunters, led by the sadistic Wes (Ewen McGregor), discovers them occupying their refuge.
Then the film turns harsh, even vicious, as the slave hunters capture and torture Kitch while William, who has run away, looks back to see his friend being gruesomely beaten and almost lynched before he decides he must intervene at the cost of his own life.
The film’s writer and director, Brett Smith, devoted 12 years of his life to making “Freedom’s Path” telling the heretofore untold story of autonomous Black Freedmen living in the deep-South during the Civil War. Smith realized early on, with his script in hand, that he would need “real money, a lot of money.”
In a searching essay on the production, he wrote “How on earth would I get it without an MBA or robbing a bank? …I decided I would follow my intuition and use the two key resources at my disposal…an iMac computer and my limitless passion to tell
“The ultimate trick is to never stop putting one foot in front of the other, lean on those you love, and take a moment every now and then to stop and look out on the beautiful vistas that lay behind you….You will have far more setbacks than you had hoped along your journey, but take it from someone who is 12 years into their climb…every step is worth it.”
A heartfelt dream finally makes it to the screen as a heartfelt story.
Hill resident Mike Canning has written on movies for the Hill Rag since 1993 and is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association. He is the author of “Hollywood on the Potomac: How the Movies View Washington, DC.” His reviews and writings on film can be found online at www.mikesflix.com.