As her mother prepares to give birth to another child, Cáit (Catherine Clinch) is sent to stay with her distant relatives Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and Seán (Andrew Bennett). While staying in their idyllic home, Cáit begins to flourish in their nurturing care, but soon discovers they hold a secret that could shatter the peace she's come to know...
It's quite rare for a movie like 'An Cailín Ciúin' to come along that is able to tell its story so effectively, to do it with such style and grace, and to have everything come together so perfectly. That it is carried out in our native language is rarer still. Yet, 'An Cailín Ciúin' is all of these things and then some more. It's a movie of quiet but breathtaking power and emotion, so satisfying and so complete.
In every aspect, 'An Cailín Ciúin' works harmoniously. At such a young age, Catherine Clinch is able to grasp the technicalities in a performance like this and provide such a deep reservoir of emotions and experience that marks her out as a talent to watch in future. Carrie Crowley and Andrew Barrett have such a dynamic together, particularly in how they address and live in each other's space with such ease. Crowley, in particular, just gives off this aura of warmth and tenderness that practically comes out of the screen at you. Michael Patric, who plays the titular character's absent father, has only a few scenes to demonstrate what a complete shit he is, but does it with such deftness and ease.
There's a real economy to how 'An Cailín Ciúin' gets its themes and story across. At just over an hour and a half, you have the full gamut of emotions and the story reaches a full arc in that time without an ounce of fat on it. You need not know any more than you do about these characters because it's so neatly told. Moreover, 'An Cailín Ciúin' exists in the quiet spaces between words. It's in the unspoken, the poetry of silence, that it truly resonates and makes itself known. Stephen Rennicks' score rests gently over these moments, while Kate McCullough's sumptuous cinematography captures the pristine beauty of the world the characters live in.
This might seem like it's a bit inside football, but Irish critics and journalists sometimes run up against a problem when reviewing our own cinema. Readers will think we're either being too harsh or too lenient, but quite honestly, very few of us in the trade treat them any differently. Put it another way - if this movie wasn't in Irish, but rather German or French or Danish, would you question our score any further? Of course not. Yet, it's there. The reason for this aside at the outset is that 'An Cailín Ciúin' has been the subject of ecstatic reviews and award wins, and this review will now join the chorus. Hell, if you don't take our word for how good it is, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave it five stars as well.
'An Cailín Ciúin' is quite simply the best Irish-language movie ever made. It has all of the emotional intensity of a modern classic, the performances from the cast are pitch-perfect, the way in which writer-director Colm Bairéad is able to layer the complexities of years of anguish from a few small scenes - it has so many things done so well and so effortlessly well that it deserves every laurel and every accolade it's due.