Directed by Neil Jordan
Starring Collin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Alison Barry
Release date: June 5, 2010
A wearisome fisherman just happens to come across a lady in the water by way of his fishing net, and no, this is not a remake of the M. Night Shyamalan film Lady in the Water. Neil Jordan directs Ondine as if he is trying to perceive a bygone vision, almost as if he is harkening back to a great Greek mythology for his framework. Perhaps he is, and that is what makes his newest film resonate emotionally. The first hour convulses magnificently with a unique and innocent idyllic romance mixed with a beautiful bombardment of lyrical imagery. While the latter part of the film plays out rambunctiously, offering up a series of important events that cascade abruptly without us fully realizing what has occurred.
Jordan weds both fantastical and realistic elements to create a celebrant vision of a man who is still contaminated by his unfruitful and impure past. His name is Syracuse (Collin Farrell in a subdued performance in which he still maintains his effortless charisma), and he seems to be immune to luck but then has his senses enlightened by his discovery of this mysterious woman who says her name is Ondine (Alicja Bachleda). He has reservations about her — can she possibly be a mermaid? She carries with her the ability to leave an indelible mark on Syracuse, but the platform of her standing, her existence, is accompanied by intense ambiguity.
The discreetness in which Mr. Jordan fashions his “fairy tale” film shares moments of magic with the 2003 film In America. That film and Ondine are sufficiently grounded in reality while its undertones point to the direction of the mystical and magical. The elusiveness of such a pervading magical aura is exemplified even more so in both films due to the imagination of children. In Ondine Farrell’s daughter (Alison Barry), who travels by wheelchair due to her kidney problems to her father’s home and then her mother’s due to their break-up, reveres the potential that lies within Ondine’s ambiguous existence; is she a real life mermaid disguised as a young woman or just a mere woman? Jordan definitely keeps the vagueness intact throughout the big reveal. It is that remoteness from assurance in Bachleda’s character that makes the film a wonderful mystery.
To contrast with the plot’s remoteness is the profound sense of family, love, and hospitality that is deliberately sustained throughout the film. The film takes place in a quaint seaside village where everybody undoubtedly knows the other. The local priest is so familiar with Syracuse’s sins that it leads us to believe that he is as familiar with others’ just as much. Easily the film could have traveled off into conventional romance territories. Instead, we comprehend more than a romance. We witness the values of individuals by their taking a stranger in and offering them more than they ever could imagine. Hospitality and how we move forward in our initial knowledge of an individual are both charted in various ways, making Ondine a potent film about humanity.
Like Jordan’s recent films, The Brave One with Jodie Foster and Breakfast on Pluto with Cillian Murphy, he places individuals’ humanity in harm’s way, seeing how they can cope with it. Foster and Murphy are both used as instruments to Jordan’s vision of capturing the awkwardness and inexperience in being in a situation one isn’t used to being in. With Ondine he succeeds once again by placing Bachleda’s Ondine in a predicament that leaves her torn. She has no clue how to approach it and tries innocently to adapt to it despite the obstacles in front of her.