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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ondine

Colin Farrell stars in Neil Jordan film

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In a beautifully somber scene along the Irish coast, where choppy gray waves reflect the gray massing clouds, a rusty trawler bobs along under the stark hills bordering the shore. A lonely fisherman mans the wheel and minds the nets, attended only by wheeling sea gulls. Hoisting up what he takes for a heavy burden of fish, he picks out a strange shape through the darkness in the soggy net, a woman dredged up from the murk.

With Ondine, Irish writer-director Neil Jordan (The CryingGame) weaves a fairy tale from the Celtic twilight into the dim shadow-lands of now. The melancholy fisherman, Syracuse (sad-eyed Colin Farrell at his best), and his imaginative little girl, Annie (a marvelously unaffected performance by Alison Barry), come to believe that the woman, Ondine (Alicja Bachleda), is a selkie—the mermaid-like seal women that fisherfolk once spotted swimming among the misty inlets of Ireland.

Syracuse’s catch is mysterious indeed, as she speaks English with a faraway accent and knows little about the society in which she finds herself. When Ondine sings her bewitching song, she seems to draw fish to Syracuse’s nets while gently stroking the strings of his heart. The unhappy man wonders what wondrous and terrible forces are stirring. Could Ondine be running from someone or something? And what will the villagers, especially his unhappy alcoholic ex-wife, think about the strange, beautiful woman living in his old cottage? With no one to talk to, he offers his story as a confession to the weary, grumbling parish priest.

Maintaining a low key even through the head-butting violence at the climax, director Jordan manages to pass easily between magic and realism, transforming a mossy, decaying corner of our contemporary world into a metaphorical fairy tale.

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