elieve the hype. An Cailín Ciúin, writer and director Colm Bairéad’s masterful adaptation of Claire Keegan’s story Foster, marks a triumphant breakthrough for Irish language films. We saw it coming.
Tom Sullivan got the ball rolling with last year’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning Famine epic, Arracht. Foscadh, Seán Breathnach’s recent rural drama, as Gaeilge, picked up some of the best reviews of the year. An Cailín Ciúin seals the deal.
As its proud producer Cleona Ní Chrualaoí confirmed when receiving the award for Best Film at this year’s IFTAs – where it took home a further six trophies – this is a “watershed moment for Irish language cinema”. Indeed.
Backed by TG4, Screen Ireland and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s Cine4 initiative (a worthy funding scheme ensuring the annual development and production of theatrical Irish language projects), this delicate, deeply moving display was also the recipient of a prestigious Grand Prix jury prize at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. Might Bairéad’s film go supernova? We certainly hope so.
The story is set in rural Ireland in 1981. The excellent Catherine Clinch is Cáit, a quiet, watchful nine-year old whose wearisome mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) is expecting yet another child. The house is already jammed with mean, unloved siblings. Mum is exhausted. Dad (Michael Patric) is a bit of a bozo, a useless cheat and a monumental waste of space who drinks and gambles whatever money he earns.
Life is utterly joyless and unbearably empty for Cáit and, as school breaks for the summer, the youngster’s parents decide her presence is no longer required and the girl is sent to live with her mother’s cousin Eibhlín (a never-better Carrie Crowley).
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The thing is, Cáit has never met Eibhlín before. She and her husband Seán (Andrew Bennett), have no children and – judging by the look on Cáit’s face – our pensive protagonist worries that life in a different house under different guardians will bring about more of the same old brand of misery and neglect. As summer casts its mellow, dream-like spell on their home, however, Cáit discovers a new lease of life in this caring, tranquil retreat.
The kind, warm-hearted Eibhlín forms an immediate bond with Cáit, soothing her fears and anxieties with proper care and conversation. Even Seán – an aloof farmer, and a man of few words – comes out of his shell.
The pair are smitten with Cáit, and Eibhlín assures the girl this is a safe space, that she is free to live her life as a child and that there are no secrets in their home. But Eibhlín and Seán are hiding a tragic secret of their own, and it won’t be long before Cáit uncovers it.
A languid, lyrical piece, An Cailín Ciúin is a simple, straightforward tale, but it tells it beautifully, taking its time and allowing its cast to inhabit their characters in ways we don’t often see in Irish cinema.
Too many domestic features give way to endless streams of stilted, stagey dialogue and breathless overacting. Not this one, and Bairéad’s spare, slow-burning display talks only when it needs to.
The result is a soulful, life-affirming drama of rare quality and depth. It is a rich, heartbreaking depiction of loneliness, loss and longing, experienced through the eyes of a wise and wistful child.
Newcomer Clinch – the beguiling, beating heart of this story – delivers a performance of such startling strength and conviction you would never know that this is her first screen role. Cáit is in practically every scene, and Bairéad’s film requires a capable and commanding lead to keep everyone and, indeed, everything in place. Clinch is that actor.
Bennett, meanwhile, is superb as a man whose working day is vastly improved by the presence of a playful helper. He and Clinch make for a wonderful pairing. Likewise, Crowley is exceptional, and together this magnificent trio brings to life a remarkable story about childhood, family and grief.
Beautifully photographed by Kate McCullough, with an exquisite score from Stephen Rennicks, An Cailín Ciúin hit me in ways I wasn’t expecting.
It knocked the wind out of me. It moved me to tears and stayed with me for days. It is one of the most accomplished, most fulfilling coming-of-age dramas I’ve seen – a flawless, fabulously assembled offering that deserves everything good that comes its way.
An extraordinary Irish film.
IFI and selected cinemas; Cert 16
Gaspar Noé is never one to give us an easy ride. Through films such as Irréversible (2002), Love (2015), and Climax (2018), this latter-day enfant terrible of French cinema has put us through ultraviolence, explicit sexual function, and quaking psychological dread. In Vortex, Noé takes us into another disquieting realm of human existence – old age.
Using a split screen, we are shown the final days of writer Lui (real-life Italian film director Dario Argento) and psychiatrist Elle (Françoise Lebrun), a couple in the winter of their lives. In a homely but cluttered apartment that mirrors the full life they have lived together, they are negotiating Elle’s recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Lui, who is managing a bad heart condition, and their recovering addict son (Alex Lutz) do what they can but have their own battles. A real sense of inevitability develops given their stage in life, along with questions about love, loyalty, and how “enslaved” by medication we are.
Vortex is devastating viewing, but in ditching the provocations and bedding down in the seemingly mundane, Noé has captured the tragically routine nature of “the departure lounge”. Hilary White
The Drover’s Wife
In selected cinemas; Cert 15
Between the endemic atrocities committed against First Nation people and the scorched, treacherous landscape, Colonial-era Australia is a dark historical period to depict on film. This feature debut – written and directed by, as well as starring, Aboriginal artist Leah Purcell – taps into that sense of dread as it tells a kind of feminist revenge Western.
Purcell plays Molly Johnson, abandoned by her drover husband to fend for their four children in the remote Australian Alps. Life is tough, but so is the gun-toting Molly, who defends their smallholding fiercely. When an Aboriginal fugitive (Rob Collins) turns up seeking shelter, she is sympathetic and takes him in as a helping hand.
This will bring further complications into Molly’s already challenging existence, chief among them the attentions of a new local law enforcer (Sam Reid) who is trying to make a name for himself.
Aside from committed performances and stunning scenery, Purcell’s film is full of tension, beauty, and pathos. Tonally, however, it often goes awry. A big culprit here is Salliana Seven Campbell’s over-abundant score, which can dilute any potency from a scene. Hilary White
In cinemas; Cert 15A
File this one under “better than expected”. Indeed, one of the oddest things about this structurally disorganised, faith-based drama is that, even at its messiest, Father Stu remains a surprisingly tolerable endeavour.
It’s the early 1990s, and Mark Wahlberg is Stuart Long, a past-his-prime boxer from Montana. Worrisome mum Kathleen (the always reliable Jacki Weaver) wants him to quit. Alcoholic dad Bill (a solid Mel Gibson) has scarpered.
Obviously, mum knows best and, after hanging up his gloves, Stuart heads out west to become a Hollywood superstar (don’t ask). As it turns out, life –and indeed God – has other ideas for the chap and, after meeting a Sunday school teacher named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), and surviving a gnarly road accident, our wise-cracking pugilist decides to become a priest.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and first-time writer/director Rosalind Ross’s sketchy, unfocused drama – based on a fascinating true story – probably bites off more than it can chew. Still, it’s never boring, and a watchable Marky Mark adds a nice comic touch to proceedings. In a word? Grand. Chris Wasser