Greetings again from the darkness. What a treat to watch a film that doesn’t drown us in the obvious or spell out each character’s precise thoughts. There are no explosions or action sequences, and these folks are ever so believable and grounded in life. With the depth of emotions relayed, and the unhurried pacing, it’s remarkable that this is a first feature film. Writer-director Colm Bairead has based his debut on “Foster”, a story by Claire Keegan.
It’s 1981 and a mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) is calling for her daughter … young Cait (an extraordinary Catherine Clinch) is difficult to spot, blending in with nature in the pasture of her family’s farm. Being nearly invisible is how Cait spends her days. Mom is just about ready to deliver a new addition to the already crowded home. One more is one too many mouths to feed since dad (Michael Patric) works the liquor harder than the farm. With no discussion, or even an explanation, Cait (approximately 9 or 10 years old) is unceremoniously dropped off at a relative’s house for the summer. By this time, we’ve noticed she is extraordinarily quiet as she tries to remain unnoticed in her out-of-sync world – a home that lacks warmth and obvious love.
Cait is immediately struck by the kindness and tenderness shown by Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley), the woman at the new house who casts a fawning gaze at the child. Eibhlin’s husband, Sean (Andrew Bennett), is not nearly as welcoming of the girl, and seems to avoid speaking directly to her initially. Where previously Cait lived a life of isolation, missing the adoration young kids expect from parents, she’s quick to embrace Eibhlin’s attention and chips in with chores around the farm.
For a while, our focus is on Cait and Eibhlin, but slowly it shifts as Sean gradually thaws from his early silent treatment. It’s fascinating to watch the subtle ways in which Cait and Sean develop a bond. He even acknowledges her natural tendency towards silence by advising something along the lines of, ‘many people have missed the opportunity to say nothing.’ For her, it’s been a survival instinct. To Sean, it’s often a wise choice.
The work by Director of Photography, Kate McCullough, is exceptional. The shots of nature are lovely, but it’s the way she shoots these evolving characters that really makes an impact. An example of the complexity embedded in this ‘simple’ story is how Eibhlin informs Cait that secrets within a home are a bad omen; so imagine Cait’s surprise when the neighbor (Joan Sheehy) spills the dark secret held by Eibhlin and Sean.
Gaelic is the predominant language spoken herd, making subtitles a necessity for most of us. Mr. Bairead’s film has received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language feature film, and although the story doesn’t move at the pace we’ve grown accustomed to, the ending strikes us square in the heart as we realize Cait truly feels loved for the first time.
Opens in theaters on February 24, 2023