Sunday, May 23, 2010

“Ondine” – Movie Review

This morning, my movie class held its final bonus screening of the Spring Semester, showing Neil Jordan’s new drama, Ondine, starring Colin Farrell and Stephen Rea. 


When a fisherman saves the life of a beautiful young woman he accidentally nets in his daily catch, he begins to think she is a mermaid with magical powers after she brings him good luck – but once he learns of her more sinister past, everyone’s life is endangered.


Syracuse (Farrell) is a poor, lonely fisherman who lives in a small village on the coast of Ireland.  A recovering alcoholic divorced from his alcoholic wife who’s nowhere near interested in her own recovery, he is permitted occasional visits to their daughter Annie, taking the girl to her regular dialysis treatments due to her kidney failure.  One gloomy morning when taking his trawler out for his daily routine, his net contains a catch the likes of which he’s never seen before – a beautiful young woman who seems just barely alive.  Although she declines medical attention, Syracuse is somehow able to resuscitate her; appearing dazed and amnesiac – she can’t remember how she wound up in the water, much less her own name – he brings her back to his modest home to feed and clothe her.  Unable to remember her own name, she decides that he can simply call her Ondine. 

Not wanting to leave her alone during her recovery period, Syracuse has Ondine accompany him on his regular trips to the sea where he begins to notice something rather peculiar – once she begins singing a haunting melody in a language he’s never before heard, he starts catching many more fish.  It’s not merely the quantity that’s unique, but also, the quality and type of fish that’s highly unusual for him – or, for that matter, most other fishermen in that region.  All the while these episodes occur, he has enchanted Annie with wondrous tales of his adventures with this strange woman.  This makes the girl curious, so she sets off to do her own research and informs her father that Ondine is a mystical type of mermaid called a Selkie and she then proceeds to educate herself and her father on the legend surrounding such creatures.  Befriending Ondine, Annie informs her that she’s aware of her secret and is most knowledgeable of Selkie traditions and history – enjoying Annie’s company, Ondine does nothing to dissuade her of these beliefs. 

Eventually, their magical bubble is burst when an ominous stranger suddenly appears in town; he winds up confronting Syracuse about Ondine, but he coldly brushes off the stranger.  After a while, Ondine becomes aware of the stranger’s presence and the fact that he is searching for her.  Fearful that this might cause unwanted trouble for both Syracuse and Ondine, she runs away, but is eventually found by Syracuse, who convinces her to return.  Once she does so, however, she reveals to him her dark history and how she managed to wind up in his fishing net.  Undeterred by her story, he pledges to keep her safe until one night when the stranger shows up at his house to retrieve something from Ondine which he insists belongs to him – but when he threatens everyone’s life if he doesn’t get what he wants, will Ondine surrender the item, even if it may endanger her in the process?


What can I tell you to convince you to see this movie as soon as you possibly can?  As someone who has enjoyed a number of Neil Jordan’s movies, it is my sincerest hope that Ondine will be regarded as one of his best films – although it’s almost certainly destined for commercial failure.  Should I instead stress the performances?  Well, although you might be drawn to the movie by names such as Stephen Rea and Colin Farrell, the truth of the matter is that Rea’s role is a small one (a priest who is Farrell’s friend and confidant) and that Farrell’s performance is not the one that shines most brightly; in fact, the best performances are by the female cast members, Alicja Bachleda as the eponymous Ondine and Alison Barry as Farrell’s daughter Annie (who may have been given both the best and funniest dialog in the entire movie).  Perhaps all of the above are sufficient to justify seeing Ondine, I suppose, but most significant of all it is the story itself.  When we go to a movie, we are implicitly stating to the filmmakers, “Tell me a story and make it well-told”; to that extent, Ondine delivers in spades. 

Whichever reason you decide to use to make your choice, do make sure you see this one; I highly recommend it because it is a captivating and ultimately very satisfying tale with the visual look and feel of a fable, but with a gritty reality thrown in towards the end to put you back on your feet after you’ve been swept up in a world of fantasy for over an hour and a half.  This is likely a movie that will not have much of an advertising budget for its promotion and as such, will fall below the radar of most people; that and the fact that it is something of a difficult movie to market (especially to an American audience) and you have something that’s probably bound to wind up on DVD or cable fairly soon.  Regardless, however you do manage to see it, it’s one that will most definitely be worth your time and money. 

After the screening, it turned out that the film was enjoyed by an overwhelming majority of the class – including and especially myself.  Just as there is a secret in Jordan’s The Crying Game, there is a similar one here – the only difference being that in The Crying Game, you learn the secret rather early on, whereas with Ondine, it is not learned until very late in the story.  If you are someone who likes a “Once Upon A Time” kind of story with a “happily ever after” kind of ending, then Ondine will almost certainly be your movie.