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Ondine

By Philip Martin

This article was published July 2, 2010 at 4:21 a.m.

— Sometimes accidents work out.

I wrote a review of Neil Jordan’s fairy tale Ondine a couple of months ago, right after I saw it at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Somehow that review disappeared, wiped from this newspaper’s computer system. And it was pretty much wiped from my memory as well, though I still recall the film.

The movie’s lingering with me was something I didn’t count on when I wrote the review. In a column about the festival I wrote in May, I even said that while I liked the film, I didn’t expect I’d remember it very long. I suspect my forgotten review was similarly dismissive of the film’s power to haunt.

But I was wrong about that; Ondine has stuck with me. If I had found the review, I likely would have revised it to bring it in line with my current view, but I’m happy to have the opportunity to reconsider the movie from scratch. Ondine is one of those lovely things that dissolves beneath too intent a gaze. Shot by the remarkable Christopher Doyle, it’s a visual poem that is perhaps best glimpsed sideways while in a mood receptive to magic. Looking hard will surely break its spell.

So the way to proceed is gingerly, acknowledging the sense of lucklessness that Colin Farrell instills in his lonely Irish fisherman Syracuse, who is routinely referenced as “Circus” for his previous life as an alcoholic clown.Having lost his family - not through drinking but by refusing to continue to drink - Syracuse works the gray sea off the southern coast of Ireland and lives only for his frail daughter Annie (Alison Barry), one of those movie kids who are cast to make insightful commentary on the folly of adults.

One day Syracuse hauls up his nets and finds a woman inside, a half-drowned beauty who calls herself Ondine (Alicja Bachleda). In his simple way, Syracuse doesn’t press her on her enigmatic answers, and Jordan’s script suggests the possibility of magic - is Ondine a Selkie (a mythic creature who vacillates from human to seal form) or something like a mermaid?

While in due time plausibility rears its nasty mug, mainly in the form of a thug who threatens all that’s dear to Syracuse, the movie maintains a charming aura of magical realism, as well as a persistent sexiness that mightn’t be apparent from this synopsis. Farrell is one of those extraordinarily useful actors who - in the right role - is able to communicate a kind of emotional and intellectual dissonance, the deeply human condition of being fretful and confused yet resolute in his effort to do no further harm. His Syracuse is a simple man, possibly not very bright and certainly less intelligent than his precocious daughter, but possessed of the hoariest (and most enduring) of movie character traits - a heart of gold.

MovieStyle, Pages 36 on 07/02/2010

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