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The Phenomenon of the Irish-Language Film ‘An Cailín Ciúin’

A dive into the highest-grossing Irish-language film ever.

An Cailín Ciúin: girl running
Credit: Inscéal, Fís Éireann

Irish-language films are thriving right now. Relatively, at least – according to The Guardian, until 2017, there had only been four live-action feature films in Irish, ever. With the success of recent Irish-language films such as ‘Arracht’ and ‘Foscadh’ came ‘An Cailín Ciúin’, which has become the highest-grossing Irish-language film of all time.

‘An Cailín Ciúin’ translates to ‘The Quiet Girl’. It’s adapted from Irish author Claire Keegan’s novella ‘Foster’, which was originally published in the New Yorker in 2010. The film is set in 1981 and follows a young girl named Cáit whose busy and exhausted parents send her away to be fostered by relatives for the summer. Here, she flourishes, having finally been properly cared for and looked after for the first time in her life.

Credit: Inscéal, Fís Éireann

The film was released in Ireland and the UK in May and has proved very popular. It has received much acclaim from critics and audiences alike. It has won and been nominated for awards at film festivals in Berlin, Sydney, and Taipei, as well as sweeping the Dublin International Film Festival awards and the Irish Film and Television Academy Awards. Just this week, it was selected as one of the films in competition for the 2022 European Film Awards. Notably, ‘An Cailín Ciúin’ has been particularly successful when it comes to Audience Awards. Another hallmark of its popularity with audiences is the fact that it’s still being shown in Irish cinemas today, three months after its release. To date, it has made over €900,000 (£760,000/$903,000) just in Ireland and the UK – an incredible achievement for a small Irish (and Irish-language) film.

From its unprecedented success, it’s clear that ‘An Cailín Ciúin’ has resonated with audiences. This is likely due to the heartwarming nature of the story. The film is cathartic to audiences because it’s just so sweet and beautiful – we’re nearly taken aback by just how well Cáit’s relatives, the Cinnsealachs, care for her. We get to watch her grow into herself and become more confident as a result of their affection for her, and we see how they are glad to have a child to care for.

This is the feature film debut of writer/director Colm Bairéad, and his skills are very well-suited to this film. His gentle, stripped-back filmmaking perfectly matches Keegan’s prose, which is simple yet incredibly vivid. The way Bairéad’s camera lingers on ordinary moments tells us so much about the characters – he even manages to make the audience cry at a shot of a biscuit. The final few moments of the film are heartbreaking and beautiful in equal measure, and it’s nearly impossible not to tear up. The key to ‘An Cailín Ciúin’s success as a film is its simplicity – Bairéad doesn’t judge or manipulate our emotions, he merely presents these moments as they are, leaving them to affect us as they will.

Credit: Inscéal, Fís Éireann

Another likely factor in this film’s popularity in Ireland in particular is its authenticity as a portrait of a time and place. The film takes the setting of 1980s rural Ireland seriously. The year is never explicitly stated in the film, but viewers familiar with this time period will recognize it, in large part due to the sets and costumes. The details of Irish life during this time are woven organically throughout: the importance of farming and the workload that accompanies it, the routines at a wake, the novelty of traveling into the city, the gossip from neighbors.

The use of Irish slang throughout also contributes to its success – this is a distinctly Irish film uninterested in changing itself to appeal to international viewers. The way language is used in general is refreshing for Irish viewers. The rare times the characters speak in English, they speak with genuine rural accents, no matter how difficult they may be for some to understand. As a city person, I found the Irish nearly easier to understand than the English!

‘An Cailín Ciúin’ is Ireland’s entry for the ‘Best International Feature’ award at the 2023 Oscars. So far, no Irish-language film has ever been nominated for this award. Considering how successful it’s been in the few countries it’s been released so far, ‘An Cailín Ciúin’ seems likely to make history in this sense too. We should all hope it does, so that more viewers across the world can discover this deeply moving story of childhood and love.

To learn more about the increasing popularity of non-English media, click here.

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Written By

I'm an Irish college student studying English. I love analysing and reading about films and TV shows, and, of course, writing about them too.

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