JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Ondine (Director/Writer: Neil Jordan) - December 13, 2010
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Ondine

2.5 2.5
103 min.

Luckless writing spoils the magic

The chance for a truly magical film was palpable in the first two-thirds of Neil Jordan’s tale of myth, luck and life. But during the wake for a man few would miss, more than an unlikeable brute was mourned.

The opening sequence can’t fail to capture anyone’s imagination. Solitary fisherman Syracuse (Colin Farrell—visually and emotionally—is perfect for the part, but even his skills can’t redeem the plot twists as they strangle the bejeezus out of the art) finds a stunning beauty in his net (Ondine is given a fine turn through the deep by Alicja Bachleda). Is she human or selkie (shape shifter creature in Faroese, Irish, Icelandic, and Scottish mythology—in one shot you would swear she grew a fin)?, we soon wonder thanks to the ever-active imagination of Syracuse’s daughter, Annie (perhaps too mature beyond her years in the delivery, Alison Barry courageously captivates as her wheel-chair bound character awaits a vital transplant).

Dervla Kirwan is appropriately pathetic as the drunken ex, Maura. In a classic case of misery-loves-company until one of them sobers up, Syracuse has been dry since the break-up, seeing his daughter as much as he can. New beau Alex (Tony Curran) keeps on the party-hearty tradition with Maura and verges ever so slightly towards child molestation. To help stay on the booze-less path, Syracuse talks to his favourite tree: Stephen Rea is the affable priest who knows too many secrets of the small town parishioners for comfort, but still manages to look the other way and occasionally provide wee bits of truth unasked (“You can’t take good luck,” he tells his reformed confessor in such a truly Irish comeuppance).

Lurking in the narrative weeds is a nasty-looking moustachioed “foreigner” (Emil Hostina) who’s on the prowl for the beguiling mermaid.

As the story unfolds, luck comes to Syracuse after he sets up the rescued Ondine (marvellously wearing fishnet stockings when hauled out of the ocean) in his dead ma’s house. Soon his own nets are overflowing, putting cash in his pocket. Not surprisingly, the happy pair end up in bed—all the better to be sure there are no web parts. But the best luck of all centres around Annie’s precarious health. No spoilers here. Suffice it to say “be careful what you wish for.”

Following the wake—and a return to previous lifestyle choices …—Jordan suddenly runs out of narrative pixie dust, washing the remainder of the film onto the rocks of trite, routine scenes that will infuriate those who had been caught up in the fanciful art.

Somewhat at one with this unhappy turn of events is Kjartan Sveinsson’s original score. The orchestration is superb, but the early hints of homage to Erik Satie’s three/four lilts and Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev,” move into the unwanted bay of plagiarism with every repetition of the poignant theme that finds its way directly back to Beethoven (Piano Sonata No. 8, Op. 13, “Adagio cantabile”).

Thank goodness for Christopher Doyle. His cameras have beautifully captured the Irish countryside and most especially the sea (the underwater/selkie-point-of-view shots give the film some of its finest moments).

Here’s to better luck next time. JWR

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