Colm Bairéad’s appearance at Deadline’s Contenders: The Nominees event marks a year since his film The Quiet Girl first debuted at the Berlin Film Festival. A dual release in the UK and Ireland followed in May, and a slow international rollout has kept the director busy ever since. Indeed, as the film’s Oscar campaign enters the final stretch, The Quiet Girl is only now going wide across America: not bad going for a film with no stars that’s shot almost entirely in Irish, a language spoken by fewer than 2 million people worldwide.
The story of a shy and sensitive pre-teen girl who is sent to live with relatives after she becomes too much of a burden to her parents, who are expecting another child, The Quiet Girl is adapted from Claire Keegan’s novella Foster, which Bairéad discovered, quite by chance, in 2018.
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“It was listed in an article in The Irish Times as one of the greatest works of Irish literature written by a woman this century,” he recalls. “For whatever reason, I went out that day and bought it, and I just fell head over heels in love with it. It’s a stand-alone publication, but really it’s a short story — a long short story, as Claire likes to call it. In fact, it’s only about 85 pages. But just everything about it appealed to my sensibility. I loved the fact that it was a first-person narrative that you were experiencing this entire story through — you were seeing it through the sort of prism of this young consciousness, this young girl who’s at the center of the story.”
The title role is played by newcomer Catherine Clinch, who Bairéad found after an epic search lasting seven months. “One day we got a self-tape from Catherine’s mother, who had recorded it on her iPhone, and it just blew us away,” he says. “Before I had ever met her, before I had ever given her any direction, I could just tell that she had a complete and innate understanding of this character.”
Shortly after that, Bairéad put Clinch in a rehearsal room with her co-stars Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett, who play the surrogate parents in the story, for a chemistry read. “At the end of that day, myself and Cleona [Ni Chrualaoi) — who’s the producer and also my wife — were driving home, and we were so excited because we knew we had found our holy trinity. We had our three leads, and when you find your cast like that, it’s such an exciting moment — you just can’t wait to get started. So, yeah, it was kind of a magical day.”
Check out the panel video above.
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