I rarely seem to enjoy movies that rank below a 70 on Rottentomatoes, but Neil Jordan's Ondine, which garnered a mere 60-something, blew me away. Though a film not without its problems, Ondine managed to remain riveting regardless. Of course, having two of the most beautiful people in the world as each other's love interest always helps:
Ondine crosses the strange line between Thriller and Fantasty with some trepidation. A fisherman off a small coastal (Irish?) town gathers his nets one day and finds an incredibly attractive woman, unconscious, within them. After a bit of soft-core-porn-esque CPR, Colin Farrell, alias "Syracuse," reanimates her. Soon he realizes that she--who is now named "Ondine-- brings him good fishing luck, seemingly from singing to the fishes, siren-like. The term "Ondine" is actually the name of an ancient type of Water Nymph. Fitting, since throughout the film Ondine is believed to be an Irish mythological creature called a Selkie, which is a seal that sheds its skin to become human. Mythological thematic elements run deep, and are the most arresting parts of the film.
In fact, so beautiful are these mythological asides that the thriller aspect of this film, which occurs more than halfway in, seems less developed and almost haphazard. It's as if the director, after painstakingly laboring away at the brilliant and lovely first half, gave up and created a heavy-handed and painful realistic framework, but concluded it with a saccharine but unconvincing deus ex machina ending. Of course, the ending is what the audience wants, so one leaves satisfied, for the most part. But I couldn't help but wish that the entire movie was formulated around a tragically beautiful Hans Christian Anderson-esque love story set on the Irish coast. Thrillers are a dime a dozen, but a believable fantasy for a pessimist like myself is hard to pull off, and Neil Jordan seems to accomplish it with great panache, especially in the first half.
Seeing two attractive people fall in love is always, at least subconsciously, pleasant, but the truly great aspect of the film came from a young actress named Alison Barry, who is so unknown that she doesn't yet have a wikipedia page of her own (someone please remedy this soon?). Alison plays Annie, Syracuse/Farrell's precocious young (perhaps 12-year old?) daughter, who has a chronic illness and seems to always be on the brink of death, yet manages to outwit every adult in her path and quote Alice in Wonderland, as if looking for a dreamland of her own. Such a wonderful character, and even quite a talented (albeit unfortunately unknown!) actress.
All in all, certainly a worthy movie of one's ten bucks at the local cineplex. Ondine is not without serious storytelling issues but is nonetheless a sincere and lovely little film, even with the odd thriller-fantasy genre. Also mentions a variety of important issues, such as indie music (Sigur Ros? What?), illness, reality v. fiction, coastal culture (Ponyo much?), severe alcoholism, (bad) parenting, poverty, religion, drug abuse... etc. Surprising and refreshing for what seems at first to be a mere romantic fantasy. It really is a "touching" story, and I'm not normally such a sap (I also despise the word "touching," but here it really seems to fit best in context, I apologize). It opens this weekend, so see it while it's around!