In Ireland of yesteryear, when people had big families and thought little about it, it was so much easier for quiet kids to slip through the cracks. One is Cáit (Catherine Clinch), a sad-eyed, alert nine-year-old girl who has grown used to being forgotten. Almost invisible at home, Cáit is teased at school and all the fear gets to her: she wets her bed.
With four children under her feet and another on the way, her mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) seems unable to acknowledge or address her daughter’s issues, and as the birth date approaches, she sends Cáit away to look after a child to stay cousin. Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley), who lives on a remote farm with her husband Séan (Andrew Bennett).
It’s 1981 and Cáit’s father (Michael Patric) gives birth to his daughter, drives fast, ignores her and is more interested in where his next drink might come from. He even forgets to take her suitcase out of the trunk and roars off to leave Cáit adrift among strangers, alone and bereft of possessions. Luckily for them, these strangers turn out to be saints.
That is the premise of Colm Bairéad’s Cailín Ciúin, a dark, haunting, beautiful little fiction film, the best Irish language film I’ve ever seen, perhaps the best Irish film I’ve ever seen, based on Claire Keegan’s short story Foster .
This story and film are set in a lost but relatively young Ireland where indifference and casual cruelty to children were the order of the day.
Traditionalists might argue that children today are spoiled and have too much to say for themselves: rather that than a world where they are expected to obey their “bosses” at all times and remain quiet.
It’s a discipline Cáit is all too adept at, but on Séan and Eibhlín’s farm, she quickly finds that obedience and silence are no longer what’s expected of her. Eibhlín’s hands are gentle: a calm and longing woman, she slowly and lovingly combs Cáit’s hair and runs hot baths. Meals are served hot and on time, and when Cáit speaks, she is heard. Under these greatly changed circumstances, the child begins to thrive.
However, Séan is a tougher nut to crack. Although he is clearly a kind and gentle man, he seems reluctant to let the child get near him and when she tries to help him around the farm, he snaps at her. But it will be won and there is a reason for his reluctance and for Eibhlín’s nostalgia that Cáit will eventually work out.
An Cailín Ciúin plays out as Gaeilge, but the language is so naturally woven into the plot that after a while you forget it’s not English.
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It takes real skill to tell a slow, quiet story, and Colm Bairéad does a wonderful job of moving this soulful drama forward.
In the center a rustic kitchen, timeless in its design, the kind of place you used to spoil your grandparents. It is a safe place, a barrier against general callousness and cruelty, the kind of sanctuary Cáit has never known before and now fears she is losing.
Emma Lowney’s set design is perfect, and Kate McCullough’s smooth and understated cinematography frames this ultimately heartbreaking drama well.
The performance of Catherine Clinch (now 12) is breathtaking, her stillness and suppressed sadness deeply touching: although she says little, Clinch manages to convey her character’s conflicting feelings and fears.
Carrie Crowley has never been better as Eibhlín, playing a sweet and hurt woman who is a product of a time and place when the expression of deep emotion was commonly avoided.
Andrew Bennett’s Séan also struggles to contain yearnings and regrets that will eventually overwhelm him: together he and Crowley form a moving and dignified duo.
They will tend to Cáit, showering her with kindness, but only for so long as they are permitted. Once, while out with the girl, a neighbor innocently asks, “Can’t you let her work?” This was once a horrible place to be a kid.
Rating: Five stars
Father Stu (15 certificates, 124 min.)
Mark Wahlberg excels at playing brave working class guys: he has great comic timing, too. In Father Stu, based on a true story, he combines both of these talents in a performance good enough to appeal to Father Stu’s frequent surly failures.
Raised in Montana by a weary mother (Jacki Weaver) and a hard-drinking father (Mel Gibson), Stuart Long (Wahlberg) is haunted by the death of his younger brother and grows angry and unhappy. When an injury forces him to give up his career as an amateur boxer, he decides to move to Hollywood to become an actor.
Instead, he gets a job at a supermarket and falls in love with a Mexican girl named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). Being a strict Catholic, Stu gets baptized in order to marry her, but before he can, he is badly injured in a motorcycle accident. Lying on the street, he has a vision of the Holy Virgin urging him to clean up his act. After that, he has a revelation and decides to become a priest.
Father Stu is entertaining if corny, and Mark Wahlberg is excellent as the salty Father, as is a soulful Mel Gibson as his father.
Rating: three stars
Vortex (16, 142 minutes)
At the beginning of Gaspar Noé’s dark, gripping drama Vortex, a young and radiantly beautiful Françoise Hardy sings a song about death. “You admired me yesterday,” she says, “but tomorrow I’ll be dust.” The human condition revealed through a pop song, and also through the slow decay of an elderly couple known only as a father (Dario Argento) and Mother (Françoise Lebrun) is identified. Noé, famous for his taboo-busting films, takes on the ultimate elephant in the corner – mortality.
Father and mother appear to be a pair of old soixante-huitards, hippie activists who have grown old and pissed off. They love each other, but old age and illness have separated them, as Noé illustrates with split-screen shots.
He has a heart condition, she has some form of dementia, a sick joke for a former psychiatrist. Dad wants to finish a book about cinema and dreams but worries his wife might leave the house while he’s not looking, gets lost and will never be found.
This candid, fearless human-centric drama is the kind of film that would never be made in America.
Rating: Five stars