It’s been a while since Irish writer-director Neil Jordan shot a movie in his homeland, which perhaps explains why “Ondine” has such a supernal glow. It’s set in the fishing village of Castletownbere on the craggy Beara Peninsula, and Jordan, with his great cinematographer Christopher Doyle, brings everything to magical life in a way befitting a modern-day fairy tale.
Colin Farrell, in the best performance of his career, plays Syracuse, a feisty fisherman and a loner who is separated from his wife and distanced from his 10-year-old daughter, Annie (the amazing Alison Barry), who sometimes uses a wheelchair due to dialysis treatments. When Syracuse pulls up in his fishing net a beautiful, near-drowned young woman (Alicja Bachleda), he imagines she is Ondine, a mythical water creature, and that his fortunes will change. Annie chooses to believe the fable, too – more so, even, than Syracuse.
Is Ondine a selkie (seal-woman) or is she simply a girl on the run seeking asylum? Jordan is such a lyrical visual artist that, for a long time, we remain as blissfully perplexed about this conundrum as Syracuse or Annie. But the real magic in the storytelling is how Jordan uses Ondine as a catalyst for the revivifying affections between father and daughter.
Jordan’s movies, as marvelous as they often are in sections, rarely add up entirely. (“Mona Lisa,” “The Crying Game,” and “The Good Thief” come to mind.) “Ondine” is no exception. The introduction late in the game of a bloody, hooligan-infested subplot is a real disservice to what came before. Still, this movie is a one-of-a-kind experience – blarney carried to rhapsodic heights. Grade: A- (Rated PG-13 for some violence, sensuality, and brief strong language.)
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