Since Syracuse (Colin Farrell) fished her out of the water after she’d somehow become entangled in one of his trawler nets, the woman who calls herself Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) says she doesn’t mind seeing him but she refuses to see a doctor, go to a hospital or meet any other people.
Soon he gives into her wishes by hiding Ondine out at his deceased mother’s old place in the southwestern Irish coast. Yet once Syracuse begins relaying the story of the woman who came from the sea to his precocious young wheelchair bound daughter to make her dialysis treatments rush by faster, it’s only a matter of time before the girl – like her beloved Alice in Wonderland – grows “curiouser and curiouser” and tracks down the stranger in the remote fishing village.
Initially The Crying Game and The End of the Affair director Neil Jordan’s latest, lushly beautiful yet darkly tinged contemporary Irish fairytale calls up images of Danny Boyle’s Millions due to its wistful wise-beyond-their-years but still delicate child protagonist along with John Sayles’ whimsical Secret of Roan Inish as the question is raised whether or not Ondine could be a mermaid or a magical half human/half seal creature.
However, in this uniquely crafted work, shot by frequent Wong Kar-wai cinematographer Christopher Doyle in just eight weeks during “one of the wettest Irish summers on record,” Jordan proves that in spite of its tender demeanor, he isn’t afraid of broaching grittier territory, which is first hinted at in its outsider lead Syracuse who has been cruelly nicknamed Circus by locals due to the fact that the recovering alcoholic used to be quite the ridiculous drunk.
Although sober and trying to adapt to an AA meeting free community by using local priest Stephen Rea and the confessional for his weekly “share session,” there’s enough pain in Syracuse’s life in wanting the best for his ill daughter that makes it particularly believable when he too senses the way his luck has changed around the beguiling stranger with whom he’s begun falling in love.
Making it easy to lose yourself in this deceptively idyllic atmospheric work, Ondine is filled with humanistic compassion and fully realized characters exceptionally brought to life by a strong cast headed up by the ever emotive Farrell.
And despite the fact that the wondrously strange film meanders into uneven territory with a pretty tonally jarring final act that recalls some of Jordan’s more unforgiving and violent early work, overall it’s a hauntingly gorgeous, stirring and intimate picture that’s sure to appeal to those looking for something completely different during the creatively dire days of summer.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.