With Ondine Neil Jordan brings Colin Farrell home for a fantastical, heart-warming Irish movie about love, and the strange forms that it can take.
Set on the rugged Beara peninsula way down south, Ondine centres on local fisherman Syracuse. A reformed alcoholic, social misfit and downtrodden soul, he finds his life turned upside down by the sudden, mysterious appearance of a girl in his fishing net. Shy, nervous and fearful this girl, who adopts the name Ondine, soon begins to bring luck to the hapless fisherman leading him to question her origins. His precocious young daughter, from whose mother Syracuse has separated, has her own ideas about the origins of the mystery woman, claiming her to be a Selkie, a sea creature of Celtic myth. As all three begin to go closer the true nature of Ondine’s origins become more evident leading to changes for everyone.
A tad whimsical in places the movie is driven onwards by a host of strong performances. Farrell imbibes in Syracuse a touch of true emotional warmth and comedy that make what would otherwise be a depressing character relatable and likeable. Alicja Bachleda too equates herself brilliantly, with her portrayal of Ondine hits just the right notes of mystery and intrigue. Plus it helps that she looks other-worldly and beguiling, something that the camera notices on more than one occasion. The supporting cast that includes Dervla Kirwan and Neil Jordan regular Stephen Rea make that most of their roles, with Rea’s exchanges with Farrell allowing the latter to build depth into his character. The star of the show however is Alison Barry, as the 10 year old, sickly daughter Annie. She displays a wisdom, wit and maturity beyond her years, while retaining a childlike innocence and naivety, and manages to steal almost every scene that she is in. In much the same manner that Saoirse Ronan captured Hollywood’s minds and hearts in Atonement I fully expect Barry to do likewise here.
Neil Jordan has a great love of fantasy and really seems to enjoy making character driven pieces (see The Good Thief and The Crying Game). He also loves home-grown features and the Castletownbeare setting is deliberate for both location and look. The cinematography is exceptional, giving the scenery itself a character, of muted dull greys and ominous foreboding and lighter tones of warmth and comfort. Christopher Doyle deserves some serious plaudits for his work here. Neil Jordan the writer lets down Neil Jordan the director as certain plot points grate and the third-act’s frentic pace jars with the slower more methodical opening 60 minutes. Tying fantastical elements and true-life drama together was always going to be difficult though, and it’s certainly a decent effort.
Enjoyable, beautiful, with great acting but never as good as it wants to be Ondine is an enigmatic little film. It’s a nice movie but it will be a hard sell to does outside this island. The strength of the Jordan and Farrell names should be enough to bring it some financial success, but quite how you’d market it I really don’t know. It’ll be a shame if it doesn’t reach an audience because it really is worth seeing.