Time Out New York Project: Issue #766, June 3–9, 2010
Dir. Neil Jordan. 2009. PG-13. 111mins. Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Alison Barry.
An intriguing mix of working-class grit and childlike fantasy that never fully comes together, Ondine stars Colin Farrell as Syracuse, a sad-eyed, scruffy Irish fisherman and divorced father who hauls the title character (Bachleda) out of the ocean one dreary morning. For most of the film, it’s left up in the air as to whether she’s human or whether she’s, as her name implies, a legendary sea creature. Neither character is particularly forthcoming about their past—they’d rather treat the present moment as sacred and untouchable, even if it’s clear that it can’t last forever. Suffice to say that Ondine initially brings Syracuse divine riches: His nets are filled with fish, his relationship with his young daughter (Barry) is strengthened, and love blossoms. Until…
Writer-director Neil Jordan, no stranger to grounded fairy tales of this sort (see The Butcher Boy), has assembled a crack team of collaborators. His cinematographer, the great Christopher Doyle, makes every image impressively dingy, to the point that you can practically smell the brine. And Farrell and Bachleda are a believably damaged couple, whatever the nature of their origins. But as the mystery surrounding them resolves itself, the fantastical elements feel increasingly imposed on the narrative, much as the whimsical tone of Jordan’s transvestite-comedy-cum-Irish-historical-drama, Breakfast on Pluto, curdled once reality came calling. The intention outweighs the execution, though there are still pleasures to be had. Jordan regular Stephen Rea shows up as a priest during a few comically tinged confessional interludes. And Sigur Rós keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson provides a memorable score, making especially beautiful use of his band’s song “All Alright.”—Keith Uhlich