The 2007 writers' strike derailed Neil Jordan's plans for a Hollywood movie, but as he’s not one to sit idle he returned to Ireland to write a story set in his own backyard. Filmed near the director’s home in Castletownbere, on the Emerald Isle's gorgeous southwest coast, Ondine spins the tale of a fisherman whose life is changed when he snags a most unusual catch. Jordan's strongest outing since 2002's The Good Thief, Ondine is Injected with a heavy dose of magic and has a lot going for it: an endearing performance from star Colin Farrell, Christopher Doyle's evocative cinematography and a captivating—if thin—story. Ticket sales look to be modest in a limited release, but good word of mouth could transform this small-scale drama into one of the year's sleeper hits.
Syracuse (Farrell) is a recovering alcoholic who’s spent the last couple of years trying to grow up and get his life together for the sake of his young, wheelchair-bound daughter, Annie (Alison Barry). A hardscrabble existence is only growing tougher as the fish refuse to bite, that is until the day he raises his nets and discovers a woman trapped inside, clinging for life. The arrival of Ondine (Alicia Bachleda) brings not just unexpected romance into Syracuse's life but also a rejuvenated trade, as suddenly entire schools of fish swim into his nets. Annie informs her father that this beautiful stranger with a soft accent (placing her origins far away from County Cork) must be a selkie, a mythical creature said to be a seal that can take human form.
Not one for sentimentality, Jordan grounds his tale in the kitchen-sink reality of a family that has never known anything other than hard times and then he ups the stakes with the arrival of a violent stranger in town. But even as a more prosaic rationale for Ondine's sudden appearance presents itself, the air of enchantment never entirely dissipates as she utterly transforms Syracuse's bleak world. The location itself, the wildness of the coast and the beauty of its sky caught by Doyle's camera, is entrancing. There's a sprinkling of fairy dust simply in watching Farrell connect with this character. An additional pleasure is the presence of Jordan regular Stephen Rea, here cast as a sardonic priest and Syracuse's confidante. Add it all together and what emerges is a film that’s a pure delight and resonant beyond its slight contours.
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Tony Curran, Stephen Rea, Dervla Kerwan and Alison Barry
Director/Screenwriter: Neil Jordan
Producer: Ben Browning, James Flynn and Neil Jordan
Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sensuality and brief strong language.
Running time: 102 minutes
Release date: June 4 ltd.