‘Ondine’: Colin Farrell’s charm, humor help carry Irish tale

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, June 16, 2010 7:09pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

A gentle little Irish folk tale gets a modern update in Neil Jordan’s “Ondine,” an atmospheric story of a man and his mermaid.

Colin Farrell stars as a shaggy fisherman, plying his trade (with ever-dwindling success) along Ireland’s wet green coastline. His birth name is Syracuse, but he’s always been called Circus, in part because of his clownish manner.

But he’s been less of a town joke since becoming sober two years earlier, on behalf of his young daughter, whose kidneys have failed and whose mother is still fond of the drink.

The little girl (nicely played by Alison Barry) sets off warning bells in the script: How maudlin is director Neil Jordan going to get with creaky old plot device like this? Happily, the kid is feisty and funny, and her relationship with her devoted father leaves questions about which is the more grown up.

One day Syracuse pulls a young woman out of the water. Just like that: She’s there, she calls herself Ondine and she may just be a selkie — one of those part-seal, part-human creatures from Celtic fairyland (previously explored in the winning John Sayles movie, “The Secret of Roan Inish”).

Ondine is played by Alicja Bachleda, who is apparently Colin Farrell’s companion offscreen. This mystery woman wants to remain hidden, so Syracuse installs her in his late mother’s isolated cabin — but of course she’s not going to remain secret long.

Jordan’s best movies (“The Crying Game,” notably) play along the edge of fairy tale and tough reality, and while his dialogue here tends to overplay the magical bits — the spunky daughter is forever quoting “Alice in Wonderland”— the visual evocation of a fable is persuasive and lush.

The cameraman, Hong Kong cinema veteran Christopher Doyle, has created a beautifully damp, blurry look for the film, which makes the Irish coast seem like a perfectly natural place for a selkie to surface. Combined with the music of Sigur Ros and a couple of ethereal songs by Lisa Hannigan, the mix is tender and soft.

Give credit to Colin Farrell, who gets better as he ages; he captures the hesitant bearing of a guy who is accustomed to losing out, and can’t quite believe nice things might be happening for him.

Even with a sometimes- impenetrable Irish brogue, Farrell brings humor and charm to a very likable movie.

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