Colm Bairéad • Director of The Quiet Girl
“I decided the camera shouldn’t ever leave the protagonist”
by Teresa Vena
- BERLINALE 2022: From Ireland comes an intimate coming-of-age story set in the 1980s but with timeless relevance
Irish director Colm Bairéad presents his new feature film about a young girl who blossoms when she is sent to a foster family for the summer. The Quiet Girl [+see also:
interview: Colm Bairéad
film profile] is part of the Generation section of this year's Berlinale. We talked to the director about the short story on which the film is based, and about how he adapted it for the big screen.
Cineuropa: How did you come across Claire Keegan’s short story?
Colm Bairéad: It was in 2018 when I was looking for material for a film. Then, in The Irish Times, I saw an article that mentioned the ten best Irish works written by women. The short story Foster by Claire Keegan was one of them. I read it and was very moved by it. Straight away, as I was reading it, it started to become a film in my mind. I liked the detached yet highly compassionate nature of the text. I really connected with the protagonist. But given that it was published back in 2010, I was worried the rights wouldn't be available anymore. I was pleased that this wasn't the case.
What were the biggest challenges involved in adapting it into a film?
The story is quite short and felt a little slight; basically, there isn’t much of a plot. So I invented another chapter for the story, namely the first chapter in the film. I created it based on the protagonist’s memories mentioned in the book. Nonetheless, the most important thing was to focus on the atmosphere and on the first-person viewpoint. It was important for me to find a way of incorporating this first-person viewpoint. To enhance this, I decided the camera shouldn’t ever leave the protagonist, for example. I also wanted to show that if we look at one moment in the life of these characters and it seems trivial, if we look at it closely we can extract something beautiful from it.
What were the most important aspects you wanted to convey?
It’s a story about love. It's about relationships in early childhood that form, forge and sustain us. The theme of sustenance is very important. It’s about emotional and physical growth. In this context, I wanted to focus on food, to make it a prominent element, so that it became a metaphor for such growth. When she arrives at the foster family, she suddenly has plenty of food, unlike before. Moreover, “Foster” in Irish means “food, nutrition”. There’s an unfortunate truth that it's not always with your biological family that you find happiness.
Did you carry out any specific research for the film?
As the story is set in 1981, we wanted to include the historic background, and, initially we shot a scene directly related to the time and to the hunger strike of those years. In the end, we left it implied. We carried out research on costumes and locations. And then, when it comes to the mistreatment of children, Ireland has a shameful history, which there are lots of records of. This relates to orphans or children who were considered to be difficult. Most of it happened with the sanction of the state and the church. We wanted the film to be an empathetic piece about these children.
Why is it important for you to shoot in Irish?
I was raised in Dublin, in a bilingual English and Irish-speaking family. My wife and I are also raising our children bilingually. The Irish language is close to my heart. It’s a language spoken by a minority, in rural parts of Ireland. But in recent years, there have been a few attempts to put it back on the map. Some schools are teaching it again. It's remarkable that in the last two to three years, the number of films shot in Irish has doubled, whereas, beforehand, I was one of the few people doing it.
Language is also very important for the story, since Cait's mother tongue is Irish but her father speaks English, which creates a distance. Was this your intention?
It has different meanings. Firstly, I definitely didn't want to suggest bad guys speak in English, I just wanted to stress that the phenomena of bilingual families truly exists. But it’s also a way of showing that communication between this man and his children isn’t only difficult, it’s not-existent. There’s a linguistic barrier from the father's point of view.
Could you tell more about the film’s visual concept?
When she first came to the new family, we felt that there should be a greater sense of space, representing a sense of possibility. At last, she has room and time to think. The audience should step back a little from the protagonist. Otherwise, generally speaking, I wanted everything to look as natural as possible, as truthful as possible and not so manipulated. I liked the symbol of doorways too, as a metaphor of the protagonist’s feeling that she’s in-between understanding things.
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