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With: Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Tony Curran, Tom Archdeacon, Stephen Rea, Dervla Kirwan, Alison Barry, Emil Hostina, Norma Sheahan, Don Wycherley
Written by: Neil Jordan
Directed by: Neil Jordan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sensuality and brief strong language
Running Time: 111
Date: 09/14/2009

Ondine (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Selkie Ties

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Neil Jordan's career is as up-and-down as any modern director's, and yet I remain a fan. And it's chiefly because of movies like Ondine, in which Jordan returns, refreshed, batteries charged, and confident. In his best movies, there's a real adoration for storytelling, and a genuine love for the medium. Movies like Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy and Ondine have a palpable atmosphere, rich characters and an effortless flow. Coming after a couple of duds, Breakfast on Pluto and The Brave One, this movie made me grateful.

Colin Farrell stars as a fisherman in a tiny Irish village, with his own little boat. His name is Syracuse, but people call him "Circus," due to his infamous, former drunken antics (he's been sober over a year now). Farrell looks the part with his hair grown long and shoved under a wool cap, and a genuinely humble gait, eyes avoiding other people's gazes, eager to be by himself. He occasionally takes confession rather than AA meetings, and usually leaves his priest (Jordan regular Stephen Rea) more than a little exasperated.

In the movie's opening minutes, Syracuse hauls up the net, only to discover a girl (Alicja Bachleda) inside. And what's more, she's still alive. She says she can't remember her name, or how she got there, but she adopts the name "Ondine" ("from out of the sea"), given her circumstances. Syracuse has an ex-wife, who still drinks, and a wonderful daughter, Annie (Alison Barry) who has weak kidneys and gets around in a wheelchair.

At some point, the idea comes up that Ondine may be a "selkie," or a magical half-human/half-seal creature. Annie does her research and discovers all the things about selkies, especially the parts that will allow them to stay on land and live with humans. In a short time, both Syracuse and Annie have grown fond of Ondine, and it's not hard to see why.

With help from the legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Jordan invokes some gorgeous imagery; it's part run-down, gray and foggy, but occasionally, surprisingly, beautiful and breathtaking. The human figures fit right into this atmosphere, as if they had lived there forever. Jordan never relies too heavily on the "magic realism" idea, and films as if anything and everything could be happening in reality.

The pace is unhurried, but never too slow. Some of the scenes are just plain cozy, like Ondine ducking out of sight in the cabin of Syracuse's boat, or Annie and Ondine enjoying a little swimming lesson. Shooting in Ireland appears to have given Jordan a kick-start, and it feels as if he's happy on his home court. This is his first solo original screenplay since The Crying Game, and it has a kind of welcome purity. (Technically, Michael Collins was also an original screenplay, but it was based on historical events).

Essentially, everything comes down to the reality of just who Ondine really is and where she really comes from. And unfortunately for the movie, if that question is answered at all, either way, it's going to be something of a letdown. But in the meantime, she -- and Jordan -- weave such a gorgeous and appealing magic spell that even the wary Syracuse, and the most cynical viewers, will start to at least hope.

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