The Quiet Girl: Heartbreakingly Beautiful



The Quiet Girl (2022/23)

Directed by Colm Bairéad

Break Out Pictures, 95 minutes, PG-13, In Irish and English



The Quiet Girl is one of the most beautiful and moving films you’ll ever see in which almost nothing happens. Director Colm Bairéad has given us a tone poem to the lonely childhood of a nine-year-old girl who doesn’t fit in and carries her sorrows silently.


The year is 1981 and young Cáit (Catherine Clinch) lives in a failing rural farmstead that’s dreary in ways that only Irish poverty can be. Her parents–referenced as merely Da and Mam–are completely inadequate; he because he drinks too much, womanizes, smokes like a dirty factory, and gambles. For her part, Mam is perpetually pregnant, haggard, passive, and so disengaged that she frequently fails to pack Cáit’s lunch. That “lunch” is often little more than bread that might or might not have some jam smeared upon it. Poor Cáit is so hungry that she resorts to trying to steal some of a classmate’s milk. Not that she has any “mates” as such. The other children poke fun at her poor reading skills, ostracize her, and whisper that she’s “slow,” a synonym for mentally challenged. For all of that, Cáit is an undeniably beautiful red-haired child with a cherubic face.


Cáit’s life takes an upturn when she is literally farmed out for the summer to a distant cousin in County Meath. Her Da drives off without even remembering to take her suitcase from the car boot. Eibhlín Kinsella (Carrie Crowley) takes an immediate shine to Cáit, though her husband Séan (Andrew Bennett) is as silent as Cáit and seemingly uninterested in interacting with their visitor. Cáit nonetheless experiences things she never has before: a doting caregiver, a warm bath, full dinner plates, jars of jam, a stocked freezer, a tidy home, and a prosperous farm. She has only the filthy dress on her back, but improvised clothing is found for her. Séan puts his foot down and insists that Eibhlín take Cáit to town to buy her proper clothing, ostensibly because he says she can’t go to mass dressed in jeans, boots, and boy’s clothing, but we know that he is beginning to be fond of her. When Cáit tries on a new dress, we see her glow within. She has hitherto been nearly wordless, but she comes to life when Séan tells her to see how fast she can lope down the long lane to fetch the mail and run back. Her face lights up with joy each times she does so as her growing legs churn up and down the drive and he times her progress. Eibhlín helps her with reading.


Under the loving care of Eibhlín and, increasingly, from Séan, Cáit begins to thrive. She even holds Séan’s hand and helps him muck out the barns and milk the cows. A nosy, nasty neighbor is about the only downside of Cáit’s summer. She spills the beans about an unspoken sadness in the Kinsella household, but viewers will figure it out long before the revelation is verbalized. The true sadness comes at summer’s end when it’s time to return home for the beginning of school. All three put on a game face, but we witness three broken hearts as Séan and Eibhlín drive away. The ending alone is simply priceless.


On the surface, The Quiet Girl is a straight-forward tale of how Cáit found her voice. On a deeper level it is so much more, including a lesson in sadness, love, and inner strength. The Quiet Girl is based on the Claire Keegan novella Foster, though changes were made for the movie. Its Irish box office was the highest ever in the Republic, which made it modest by U.S. standards, but Ireland’s population is just five million. It was also the first Irish language film ever nominated for a Best International Film Oscar. It lost to All Quiet on the Western Front, a fabulous production but one that cost nearly 20 times the budget of The Quiet Girl. Pick your denomination, but Euro for dollar* it’s a treasure to behold. 


Rob Weir


*In 2022, the Irish pound (often called the punt) was retired in the Republic of Ireland in favor of the Euro.


Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris: Fantasy and Dior




Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022)

Directed by Anthony Fabian

Focus Features, 115 minutes, PG



Sometimes when you see a movie shapes how you feel about it. Normally I’d rate a film like Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris a solid three, but watching it on Christmas Eve induced enough warm fuzzies that I bumped it up to a four. It oozes charm, even though objectively speaking it’s Disney-meets-Hallmark and an extended advertisement for Christian Dior.

This is the third adaptation of novelist Paul Gallico’s Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris (1958), this time with Lesley Manville as Ava Harris. It’s 1957 London and we meet Ada walking across the Albert Bridge looking haggard and melancholy. She’s a cleaning lady for thoughtless toffs such as Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor), irresponsible actress wannabe Pamela Penrose (Rose Williams), and other bourgeois blatherskites. In addition, though World War II has been over for twelve years, Ada continues to hope that her husband Eddie will magically turn up. She and her best friend Violet Butterfield (Ellen Thomas) live in tenement flats, visit the local pub to chat with other middled-aged folks, watch young people cavort, play the numbers, and dream of a windfall. Ada’s desires are further fueled when she picks up clothing casually strewn about by Lady Dant that includes a Dior gown worth £500 (about $15,000 in today’s money). Ava sighs as she fondles the material. But can Lady Dant cough up the backpay she owes Ada? There’s always an excuse!

One day, Ada’s numbers win and collects her payout from the local bookie. It’s not a fortune by any means, but she bets £100 at the track on a dog called Haute Couture, though her friend Archie (Jason Issacs) begs her not to do so. She loses and tells herself that downtrodden people should not yearn for a Dior gown. This is reinforced when she definitely learns of Eddie’s fate. As happens in fairy tales such as Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, a sudden peripeteia provides Ada with just enough money to travel to Paris to buy her dream “frock.”

Of course, a cockney such as she has little understanding of how such things work. One does not simply stroll into Dior, select something from the rack, and fly back to London the same day. She is told that in so many words by Claudine Colbert (Isabelle Huppert), the floor manager at Dior, who is appalled that such a coarse and frumpish woman would even deign to enter Dior, let along be able afford their wares. When she slaps money on the desk, the good-hearted Ava finds several champions, including the widowed Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), who is offended by how shabbily she was treated; Dior accountant Lucas Bravo (André Fauvel), who knows that Dior is in financial trouble; and overworked star model Natasha (Alba Baptista), who admires Ada’s pluck.

Ada finds herself (sort of) stranded in Paris for several weeks, but can a cockney lass make the best of it? She has truly entered a dream world, despite a garbage strike, working-class demonstrations, and Madame Colbert shooting daggers from her eyes. When Ada gets a close-up look at how Dior works–designers, cloth buyers, seamstresses, models–she is the equivalent of Willie Wonka inside the chocolate factory. Does she get her gown? I will say only that it’s not an unequivocable yes.

The dresses in the film were expertly designed by Jenny Beavan based on archival sketches in the Dior archives. To betray a personal bias, I generally find the entire realm of high fashion faintly ridiculous and conspicuous consumption at its worst. Mrs. Harris, though, makes no pretense of being anything other an unorthodox variant of Cinderella. Manville is terrific as Ada and easily moves between kind, feisty, amazed, sad, and unapologetic. She knows who she isn’t and sees through phonies. There are lots of, shall we say, exaggerated moments in the film­–friendly winos, a strike straight out of Norma Rae, comeuppances, and a romance based upon existential philosophy. On the flip side, it sometimes skirts (pun intended) the edges of racial stereotyping. But fantasy is fantasy–even to the point that many of the “Paris” scenes were actually filmed in Budapest.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is not a December tale, but it was a nice way to spend Christmas Eve, or any other evening you’re in the mood for dreaming.

Rob Weir




Anyone’s Guess: Best & Worst Movies of 2023






The writers’ strike. Declining theater attendance. Films spread across streaming platforms.


Let’s face it, all of the awards ceremonies are a lot of noise about nothing much. The Golden Globes were held last night. Did you watch? Only about 9.4 million did so. If that sounds like a lot, it’s less than half of pre-2020 numbers.


I’ve yet to see Oppenheimer or Killers of the Flower Moon, though I don’t even need to see the latter to know that Lily Gladstone is a wonderful actress or that any award she doesn’t win will be considered a travesty.


My best of 2023 list has one single criterion: I saw it in 2023. kay, one more; it can’t be more than five years since it was released. Here’s my list in countdown order:


10. Amsterdam: David O. Russell’s film polarized audiences. It punched all my surreal-meets-history buttons.

9. The Whale: A touching portrait of a broken man’s eating disorder.

8. The Son: A (sort of) sequel to The Father. Review forthcoming on January 22.

7. Yesterday : Yeah, a 2019 movie than I and too many others didn’t see. A classic small gem.

6. Lunana: Yak in the Classroom: Ditto the above and set it in Tibet and add gorgeous cinematography.

5. EO: It stars a donkey, but who’s the ass?

4. : All Quiet on the Western Front: The insanity of war adapted from one of the greatest antiwar novels ever.

3. The Banshees of Inisherin: I’m already on records saying it should have won Best Picture last year. I’m sticking to it.

2. The Quiet Girl: A quiet film that will hit you like a hammer. Review forthcoming this Friday.

1. Women Talking: Sarah Polley’s smart film about the strictures of religion and the power of female consensus-building.


Here are my top “classic” films in alpha order:


Buitiful: An earlier Iñárritu film and Javier Bardem as you seldom see him. Review forthcoming

Black Girl: A 1966 film considered an African pathbreaker.

Far From the Madding Crowd: The 2015 remake of Hardy’s novel.

Playtime: Jacques Tati’s 1967 surreal skewer of commercialism.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night: Hepburn does Eugene O’Neill. Can’t go wrong.

Trois Coleurs: Rouge: Simply one of my favorite films of all time.All are great, but Rouge!


And here is material for the dumpster:


Worst: Babylon: A total huh? on all levels. Paramount should have to match the $80 million it took to make this and donate it to charity.

Not Quite as Awful: Everything Everywhere All at Once: The fact that this was last year’s Oscar winner is an indication that Oscar needs glasses.

Awful + + +: Cocaine Bear. The ASPCA should be notified

Mind-numbingly bad: Old Joy: Kurt and Mark go to the mountains. Nobody knows why.

Give It Up, Please: Wakanda Forever: Things blow up. People die. And so did the script. Time to put the Marvel franchises on hold.


Mrs. Gulliver: New Work from Valerie Martin


Mrs. Gulliver (2024)

By Valerie Martin

Doubleday, 304 pages.





Mrs. Gulliver is the new novel from Valerie Martin, a writer I enjoy. I'm not sure how this one will be received, though strict Freudians could have a field day with it. More on that momentarily, but it should be noted that this is a fun read though its literary merits might be considered suspect.


It takes place in 1954 on the fictional island of Verona. Contextual clues suggest a Caribbean location but pinpointing which one requires finding a place that, in 1954, had a sizeable English-speaking population, lawful prostitution, and legal or tacitly accepted bordellos. In the unusual morality of the day, many Caribbean islands allowed prostitution but outlawed brothels. The reasoning was that the employer/employee sex for hire industry exploited sex workers.


Martin developed some intriguing characters, though whether you find them noble, exploited, or self-deceived depends upon your personal moral code. Lila Gulliver is an assumed name, though few know that or realize that her assumed surname is packed with metaphorical significance. Lila runs a high-class establishment where much of Verona's (semi-) respectable citizens gather to drink and enjoy the world's oldest profession. Layla takes care of her “girls,” pays them well, and employs Brutus to protect them at work. One of the ladies of the evening is married and another is a college student. Each holds strong views about the lives they wish to lead. Lila’s clientele is on an invitation and referral basis only. If someone gets out of hand, he and the person who referring are barred.


One day, two sisters show up, Bessie and Carità Bercy. They have fallen upon hard times because their uncle squandered the family money and then killed himself. Bessie has secured a job shucking oysters, but that won't work for Carità, who is blind. If you were Lila, would you send a 19 year-old blind woman to the boudoir? Carità presents as  a person of poise and breeding, but insists she relishes the idea of sex with strangers. She soon takes her place among the others in the house and each of them adore her, including Lila. Carità is remarkably self-sufficient.


Lila sees herself as a businesswoman. Among her daily tasks is staying on the good side of both respectable society like Judge Mike Drohan and gentlemen gangsters such as Marcus Betone. The latter isn’t easy because Marcus’ son Ben is a bit of a lout. One night he shows up with his college buddy Ian in tow. Ian continues to come though he doesn’t partake of fleshly delights–until he meets Carità. Then things get interesting, but not in comfortable ways.


Ian is pampered, idealistic, and moralistic, though we might also say he thinks with his penis. He expressed interest in “rescuing” Carità  by marrying her and taking her away from what he sees as an immoral lifestyle. Carità  is pretty sure she doesn’t need a rescue, but she does marry Ian. This brings Lila and Mike together and when the young couple depart for parts unknown, Mike wants to find them. This venture will lead Lila to abandon her self-imposed celibate life. Never mind that Mike is married. Lia knows she should walk away, but the sex!!!


This is where the ground of Martin's novel grows boggy. On one level all the female characters are strong in ways that seem too feminist for 1954. Yet on another level, sex seems to drive motives to the point where it feels as though the novel should be subtitled Sigmund Freud Unbound. I hasten to say that I am not shocked by the topic, but like the novel's feminist ideals, Martin's views of free love seem anachronistic. I wonder if the very mix of feminism and love-the-one-you’re-with will displease some readers. At the very least, it causes a few structural problems. Mrs. Gulliver is often neither fish nor fowl–not sexy enough to be a bodice ripper, but not assertive enough to be fully feminist.


For me, Carità is a fascinating character. Martin leaves the bedroom doors cracked just enough that we're never sure if she's weighing her options, madly in love with Ian, grifting, or simply coming into full adulthood. She's a keystone for a novel in which almost everyone is playing a role that is less than the sum of who they are.


Rob Weir


An Epiphany Tale

Two of six


Today is Epiphany, symbolically Jesus’ introduction to the Gentiles. It’s January 6 in a non-Leap Year. Therein lies several tales, including my Christmas cactus (officially a Schlumbergera).


As I’ve noted before, it’s unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25. Unless you’re a Biblical literalist–nobody know for certain what happened at Bethlehem or when. One thing is clear, though. Despite those manger scenes you see at churches during the Christmas season of “Wise Men/Three Kings” bearing gifts–gold, frankincense and myrrh–manger scenes neglect the observation that the Wise Men came from “the east.” (Garrison Keillor once speculated that myrrh was a tuna casserole!) The “east” was Persia and would have been Zoroastrian Magi with a reputation for practicing alchemy, astrology, and astonishing tricks. The word “magic” derives from them.


Most manger scenes are now back in storage. That’s odd because there were no Ubers or airflights back in first century, so it would have taken the Magi around 12 days to get to the manger via camels. That span of time was the inspiration for the many, many versions of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”


Here’s where it gets weirder. December 25 to January 6 = 12 days. Except, December 25 and January 6 weren’t always December 25 or January 6. Huh? In what Westerners  call 45 B.C. Julius Caesar instituted a solar calendar, which was inaccurate by roughly 11 minutes per year. In 1582, some places converted to the more accurate Gregorian calendar (though it’s off by about 26 seconds each year, hence leap years). It wasn’t put in place in Britain until 1752, which meant 11 days needed to be lopped off the calendar.


In legend, there were riots in which crowds chanted “Give us our 11 days.” That might not be true; some believe it was a joke embedded in a William Hogarth painting–he a bit of a trickster in his own right. That said, not everyone was happy about matters. For some in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, today is the “real” Christmas. This brings me to my Christmas cactus, which gets bright pinkish red blooms in the winter. Ahh, but when?


Years ago, I was in Glastonbury, England. It has associations with King Arthur, but never mind that. In legend, one hawthorn–“holy thorn”–tree bloomed in the spring and again at Christmas. In the tale, it first sprouted from part of the staff of Joseph of Arimathea. (He was the man who gave the crucified Christ his tomb.) Move forward to 1752. Villagers descended upon the tree on December 25, but no blooms. They returned on January 6 and it did so. A sign from above? For many years Glastonbury celebrated Christmas on January 6.


My cactus didn’t bloom for about five years. This fall we re-potted it and began to see red buds on the tips of several fronds. On December 25, there was one that opened. Today, there are six. Just sayin’.


Rob Weir


PS: Sad tale: Vandals have hacked at the Glastonbury hawthorn and it’s now officially dead, though grafts hold out hopes of renewal.