I remember when I saw Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game. In fact, I remember reading the review, which was separated from my viewing of it by several years. Okay, maybe several several years. The point is, after I saw it, I thought, “Now THAT is a perfect movie.”
Ondine is not a perfect movie. Nor is it a bad movie. In fact, it chugs along at a good pace, and even the strange ending doesn’t unravel the strands of the story, though it somewhat diminishes the magic.
One day, a fisherman named Syracuse (Colin Farrell) pulls up a woman in his net. The woman does not want to be seen, nor does she want to go to the hospital. Syracuse (known to the people of this Irish fishing village as “Circus,” since he used to act like a clown before becoming sober) decides to bring her to his old grandmother’s house, where she won’t be disturbed.
He then goes to bring his daughter Annie (Alison Barry), to the doctor’s office. She uses a wheelchair and needs a kidney transplant. While she’s hooked up to the dialysis machine, he tells her about the woman he caught in the net, but makes it into a fairy tale. Annie believes she is a selkie, a half-woman half-seal being who communicates underwater by singing, and is soon checking out every book on the subject at the local library.
Circus, meanwhile, has discovered that he has good luck when this woman, who tells him to call her Ondine, goes out fishing with him (contrary to traditional beliefs about women on fishing boats), particularly when she sings in a strange tongue that Circus has never heard before. And then this lonely fisherman, who is even ridiculed by his boozing ex-wife (Dervla Kirwan), begins to fall in love.
Is Ondine a selkie? That question isn’t answered until the end of the film, but for those of us who aren’t familiar with this legend, Annie provides us with all the information that we need. According to legend (or Jordan’s version of the legend), if a selkie buries her seal coat on land for seven years and cries seven tears, she can stay forever. Annie certainly wants her to stay forever. Circus does, too. But then a strange man (Emil Hostina) shows up in town. Looking for someone. Looking for Ondine.
Some of the best (and funniest) scenes in the movie are those between Circus and the local priest (Stephen Rea, who was also excellent in The Crying Game). The priest is the only person whom Circus confides in about Ondine, and may be his only friend in the town, besides his daughter. When Circus falls off the bandwagon late in the film, it is the priest who recognizes why.
“Misery is easy, Syracuse,” he says. “Happiness you have to work at.”
Jordan makes us care about these characters, though Annie is a tad annoying (for example, she risks her life in order to prove whether or not Ondine is a selkie, reminding me of the scene with the gun in Unbreakable). My main problem with the film, however, is the plot. While the ending ties up all loose ends, one’s enjoyment of the film may be tested by how much “suspension of disbelief” one is willing to handle (Alan, whom I ran into after the movie ended, had even deeper reservations about the ending). In addition, this movie chooses to reveal more of the darker side of fairy tales and less of their magic, though that is less a criticism than a comment.
Another caveat: this movie suffered from the same low wattage issues that plagued Last Train Home (Boo AMC!), even though it I saw it in theater 8, whereas I saw Last Train Home in theater 11 (which means it’s not an equipment issue). This time, I could tell that the images looked a little dark.
Arriving an hour before this movie began, I noticed it already had a pretty good line going, though one person who sat behind me decided to fall asleep while waiting for the movie to start (the presenter’s amplified voice woke him up). One of the women sitting next to me (I had an empty seat to my right) asked if I were a movie critic. I said I wrote a blog. When she asked what it was called, I said, “Dreams of Literary Grandeur.” So, if you’re reading this, woman who sat next to me, you are reading the correct blog. 🙂
In addition, there were no ballots for this film, since they were being tallied (after all, the Closing Night Gala would be later that night). After the movie ended, the results would be online. That allowed me to cheat a little bit. At best, this film was a 4. At worst, this film was a 3.