DRAMA; 1hr 35min (Irish with subtitles, English)
STARRING: Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett
Silent witness: Clinch
Nine-year-old Irish waif Cáit (Clinch) is quiet to the point of near-invisibility — easier to manage when you’re one of a tribe of kids in a household calcified by indifference. Rural Ireland in 1981 is too poor for niceties: with Cáit’s mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) pregnant again and the workload all too hard, the little girl is despatched for the school holidays to distant rellies Eibhlín and Seán (Crowley and Bennett).
Their sun-splashed farmhouse, at which Cáit’s father (Michael Patric) leaves her without a backward glance or her suitcase of clothes, will be a haven in comparison to the wall-to-wall dismissiveness that Cáit has left behind. Seán is an oyster at first, brusque and closed off. But Eibhlín takes Cáit under her wing, bathing her, brushing her hair and introducing her to a well on the property whose water, she cautions, is deep and potentially dangerous but does wonders for the complexion. And as the days tick by, the oyster begins to warm to his solemn little houseguest (a make-up cookie and sprints to the mailbox are involved).
It’s in these understated gestures and placid routines that writer-director Colm Bairéad’s adaptation of Claire Keegan’s 2010 short story “Foster” finds its soothing groove and Cáit finds the family she has never had. Her days on the farm aren’t all home-made jam. A meddlesome neighbour (Joan Sheehy) stirs the pot and the prospect of departure is brutal. But the ties that bind weave a transcendent spell.