One of the first films that Colm Bairéad directed was an adaptation of a short story he wrote in secondary school. "It was basically a rip-off of the Spencer Tracy movie, Bad Day at Black Rock, where he plays this one-armed war veteran," he recalls. On the weekend, he shot the movie with his cousin and a few classmates around their hometown of Dublin. "I played the lead character in that movie. And we couldn't edit, so we'd shoot it shot and then reverse shot. Then the next scene might be in a field, so we'd go out to the field and get that. We had to shoot it all chronologically, which in itself was a wonderful education of how you actually put a movie together."
Even in his earliest adaptative works, the filmmaker brings with him the uniquity of the Irish language. Bairéad was raised in a bilingual home, speaking English and Irish, and much of his work as a filmmaker shows his commitment to preserving the latter. "Irish language has been historically underrepresented in our own cinema over the years," Bairéad says. "It's only in recent years that there's been increased investments to try and generate a wave, if you like, of Irish-language cinema."
The Quiet Girl (or An Cailín Ciúin, its original title) serves as his narrative feature debut, an adaptation of a short story by Irish writer Claire Keegan that the writer-director has adapted into an Irish-language period drama. At the 95th Oscars, the film is up for Best International Feature Film, the first time a film in the Irish language has been nominated.
"The impulse to make The Quiet Girl comes partly from a place of trying to give a child of her era a primacy of placement within their own narrative and give her a voice," Bairéad muses. "I guess you could say that The Quiet Girl is indicative of a certain yearning on my part to analyze this former version of ourselves."
"I have this yearning to go backwards because Ireland has changed so fundamentally. And, as a nation, we're still kind of processing what we were and how some of that is still within us," he explains. "I feel like there are still stories to be told that interrogate the version of ourselves that emerged after we got our independence from the British. We had this opportunity to create this new nation, and yet we failed in many ways in what we created. There are lots of interesting stories to be told about that, so at the moment, I'm drawn back towards our past."
Below, Bairéad shares with A.frame five films that typify his love for cinema.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Written and directed by: Lynne Ramsay
When we were making The Quiet Girl, myself and Kate McCullough, who's our cinematographer, we didn't really reference other movies all that much. We spoke about still photography, and paintings, and different references that didn't relate to movies. But the one movie I do recall talking about quite a bit is Gasman, which is this wonderful short film by Lynne Ramsay that I saw when I was in film school. And it blew my mind, in terms of the visual language in it and the simplicity of it. They're profound images, but so simply executed.
Ramsay's mastery of visual language in that film was so extraordinary. It felt really curated from a visual point of view, but then the performances were so naturalistic. On that level, it felt almost like a documentary. That beautiful marriage of naturalism and this very considered sort of style really made me think about how to construct a film in a way that's artful and has the potential to say something deeper. As a piece of film that represents the idea that a film is a language in itself, with its own kind of grammar and dialect and so forth, that always stuck with me.
Written and directed by: Charles Chaplin
My dad was a big part of my film education. He hated us watching television, but when we finally bought a VCR machine back in 1990, he started to introduce us to movies. He bought films on VHS, and he started way back at the beginning with silent cinema, and then worked his way up through the various eras of filmmaking. But my most watched film as a young person was Modern Times, which as a kid, I loved for its comic elements, obviously.
But I remember even at that age, getting an insight into the notion that a film is a language, that it's using these elements in the way words are used in a sentence and to create syntax. There are those famous shots in Modern Times of the workers going into the factory, and then there's a joke cut to sheep walking into a big barn. It's using jump cuts and the juxtaposition of imagery to make a political point. And as a young person, that was really striking to me.
Written and directed by: John Huston
The Maltese Falcon was a big movie in my life. I remember watching that with my dad for the first time, and I remember it felt like the most adult film I had seen. I was quite young, I think I was maybe 10, but there was something about the atmosphere of that film that felt really dangerous to me. It was sort of dripping with a gleeful menace. Even in Huston's control of how he told the story, there was this sense of danger to things, like something's going to happen to this woman, or she's going to do something to Bogart. It was a remarkable experience watching that movie.
Directed by: Jim Sheridan | Written by: Shane Connaughton and Jim Sheridan
My Left Foot was a big movie of my childhood, because it was a huge story in Ireland at the time. That would've been on the TV quite a bit. Jim Sheridan's The Field as well. Those movies were a huge part of my childhood, but at that point, the notion of a film being made in Ireland was a real rarity. So, those movies were total novelties, and it almost didn't feel like a possibility that you could follow that.
My Left Foot was a really important movie, because it was showing us. For a society and people to see themselves on screen is really important. And that always felt really relatable. Even though it's set in the '40s or '50s, it just felt like, 'Yeah, this is Dublin. These are people I know. This is our voice on-screen.'
Written and directed by: Charlotte Wells
In terms of recent movies, I'm still recovering from Aftersun. That's the best film I've seen in years. I just think it's extraordinary. The performances are incredible. Paul Mescal is heartbreaking in it, and Frankie Corio gives an extraordinary child performance. Formally, it's mesmerizing, and rather aptly for a film about memory, it's a film that grows within you as you recollect it. The process of remembering the film is actually really important. It's almost as important as the experience of sitting in the theater watching it, because there's so much that you reflect upon and the shards of memory that the film presents you with. You spend a great deal of time sort of reassembling them afterwards.
The fact that it's a debut, as well, is kind of mind-boggling to me. I really want to meet Charlotte Wells and, like, genuflect in front of her. There's certain movies that stay with you, that kind of become part of you. In the deepest sense of your inner life, they become part of you. They almost become part of your belief system or the way you see the world, and Aftersun is one of those films that I feel is going to stay in there.