A body lies still in a field as girls from afar shout, “Cait! Cait!” For a beat, “The Quiet Girl” sounds an uneasy note. It won’t be the last time this luminous Irish drama — directed by Colm Bairead and based on Claire Keegan’s short story “Foster” — teases dark concerns.
Cait (Catherine Clinch, in a splendid debut) lives in a crammed, clamorous house with her parents, sisters, baby brother and another sibling on the way. Which is why her exhausted mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) and idle father (Michael Patric) whisper about sending the 9-year-old to stay with her mother’s people.
When Cait’s father delivers her to the Cinnsealaches’ farmhouse, the viewer senses — even if Cait doesn’t yet — that she has won the lottery, or at least been granted a well-ordered reprieve. Eibhlin and Sean Cinnsealach (Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett) shimmer with compassion but also a profound ache. The availability of a child’s clothes and the trains chugging across the wallpaper of the room Cait sleeps in signal a loss that the film takes its time to address.
In Cait’s encounters with nature, Bairead and the cinematographer Kate McCullough capture the first-person perspective of Keegan’s story: leaves flutter and flash by; a ladle sets the still surface of a well in gently rippling motion. They also go beyond it. Although “The Quiet Girl” — Ireland’s entry for the best international feature Oscar — is not holiday fare, there may not be a movie more expressive of the season’s benevolent ethos than this hushed work about kith and kindness.
The Quiet Girl
Not rated. In Irish Gaelic, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.