Fri 11 Jun 2010
Writer/director Neil Jordan is well known for creating films that don’t fit neatly into one genre and allow the actors to really explore all facets of their characters. Whether it’s “The Crying Game”, “The Butcher Boy” or “Breakfast on Pluto“, the stories are deeply personal and almost exist in a reality of their own.
In his latest film, “Ondine”, Jordan takes that idea to the next level. On the one hand, you have Syracuse (Colin Farrell) – a recovering alcoholic with little luck as a fisherman dealing not with just his inner demons but also doing what he can for his sick daughter (Allison Barry) who lacks the strength to spend much time out of a wheelchair.
Instead of simply dealing with that seemingly straightforward story, Jordan adds the character of Ondine (Alicja Bachleda), whom Syracuse catches in his fishing net one day. Her origin in question, the film sincerely takes the audience along a path of fantasy, proposing that she is a selkie (mythical creature that sheds its seal skin to be human on land). While this element may sound a bit strange on paper, the manner in which Jordan and his cast handle it all turn it into a lyrical dream that you don’t want to end.
That’s not to say this is some happy, shiny, love fest either. Some shady characters descend upon the small Irish fishing town once Ondine appears and there’s a painful but honest reality check seeing Syracuse handle co-parenting duties with his ex-wife (Dervla Kirwan) – who hasn’t given up the bottle as he has.
Still, what elevates the film to becoming something so rare these days is a romanticism woven into the entire film that wraps itself around even the grittier elements of the script. And although there are a number of moments that Farrell seemed to mishandle, there’s a gentleness to Syracuse that he brings out on-screen beautifully which doesn’t contradict his character’s propensity to protect those he loves in the slightest.
Both Bachleda and Barry, despite little to no acting experience, provide moving performances. They are Syracuse’s heart, and what motivate him to be a better man. This is definitely one of those times when their inexperience in front of a movie camera helps to develop a more sincere feel to their characters.
On the negative side, even though I could extol any number of things about Jordan’s script and handling of the actors, there are a number of camera shots that feel awkward and a little clumsy. Jordan may be trying to force a personal connection between the characters and audience but because of the other elements being handled so well, this is unnecessary and only comes off as a bit strange. Also, for those out there who like films to answer all the questions in black and white, you can be assured that will happen here – though I’m of the persuasion who prefer a bit more ambiguity and would have liked to see Jordan leave some room for audiences to come to their own conclusions.
Still, while this isn’t Jordan’s most accomplished film, its ability to elicit an emotional response elevates its stature and assures it a welcome spot in my cinematic memory banks. A 4 out of 5, “Ondine” tells a beautiful story across multiple genres and is the kind of intimate storytelling audiences can connect with and so many filmmakers should strive to use in their own projects.