Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Ondine is a fairy story and it is not a fairy story. It is heartwarming and affecting, it is scary and playful and clever and true. It is a Neil Jordan film, so much of that is not surprising.

Colin Farrell has been in some rubbish in his time, but he can act, and well, and does so here. He is Syraceuse [sic], a fisherman. In his net he catches a girl, and that is the beginning. He has a daughter, Annie, and he tells her. She asks: "Why does it always have to be 'once upon a time?'" and she's right, and this is a film about how she is right.

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She identifies the woman, Ondine, as a Selk - a seal-woman who has come to live on land. She might be right. She could be right. Ondine walks a fine line between the truth and fable, so delicately poised that it is both - this is quantum mythology, both particle and under the waves.

Annie is played by newcomer Alison Barry and she's amazing. Jordan has always been able to elicit tremendous performances from his casts, and this is no exception. Her scenes with Farrell feel real, with genuine concern and what amounts to mutual dependence and friendship, past father-daughter bonding. As her mother, Dervla Kirwan is note-perfect, Tony Curran (LXG's 'Invisible Man') her boyfriend, a heavily tattooed Orcadian. They still drink. Syraceuse doesn't. The town's too small for an AA chapter, so he visits confession, talking things over with priest Stephen Rea. He is a frequent Jordan collaborator, and, again, delivers a perfectly weighted performance.

Ondine calls to mind Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle, as well as Jordan's other work - the mixture of myth and reality, that grounded nature. Alicja Bachleda, as Ondine, is excellent. Of Polish origin, born in Mexico, she already pretty happily stands across two worlds. With Farrell she is happy and haunted, with Alison, joyful and mysterious. The performances, all, are fantastic. So, too, the plot. This is and is not a modern retelling of the legend of the selkie - seal-coat and seal-husband and all. Wishes are granted, songs are sung, coincidences that would not be coincidences abound.

Set in coastal Cork, it is shot there, too, revelling in the beautiful fjordlike landscape of the Bara Peninsula, with wrecks and lighthouses, homes that have sat idle, unlocked, regattas and old-fashioned department stores, empty churches and grim council developments. There is cold fluorescence, dialysis machines in the back of health service vans, sun shining through water. Dream-like and grim, grounded and flighty.

It's the subtlety of it all - almost until the last, both explanations could be true, Ondine is a creature of the water, a selk, and something more tragic, prosaic, and when it starts to seem as if they have been explained one way, or the other - Jordan gives us a moment to reflect. It isn't not a fairy story, it's still a "once upon time", but one where it doesn't always have to be. It's not that one is more true than another, but one is hidden in the other. Ondine is selk and not selk. The wishes came true. It's a happy ending and a mystery. It should be seen.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2010
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Ondine packshot
A fisherman drags up a woman in his net, but she's not dead - is she a supernatural creature?
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Director: Neil Jordan

Writer: Neil Jordan

Starring: Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Dervla Kirwan, Tony Curran, Stephen Rea, Emil Hostina

Year: 2009

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Ireland, US


Tribeca 2010

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