tue 16/04/2024

Ondine | reviews, news & interviews



Part fable, part lingerie ad: Neil Jordan's modern water nymph pops up in Cork

Tressed to impress: Alicja Bachleda and Colin Farrell take the sea air in Ondine

Neil Jordan’s smaller films have often betrayed a fascination with wispy visitants from the borderlands of gender. In The Crying Game the beautiful young call girl turns out, in one of cinema’s more jawdropping reveals, to be somewhat less she than he. Breakfast on Pluto found Cillian Murphy’s girly boy swishing around working-class Dublin in frocks and furs. And now comes Ondine, Jordan’s reimagining of the watery fable transplanted to the rugged shores of Cork.

In this mystic Celtic wilderness a creature with wavy tresses spun as if from luxuriant silk wanders lost among the secret coves. Has a gruff Irish fisherman ever had Hollywood hair quite like Colin Farrell’s?

It says in my accompanying notes that for this prodigal return to Ireland Farrell was determined to shed his Dublin accent and morph into a proper local. The vowels jig and hop about authentically enough but to be the full chameleon he might have considered a visit to a local barber before clocking on for work.

Farrell plays Syracuse, known to all as Circus for the alcohol-fuelled larks with which he kept the town entertained until he gave up the sauce. His wife, from whom he’s now estranged, maintains her commitment to the bottle. This being Catholic Ireland, he hasn’t managed to win custody of his 10-year-old daughter Annie, who is confined to a wheelchair by renal failure. Cut off from the pub, without a local AA chapter for support, his longest chats are in confession with the sceptical priest (a lovely sour turn by Jordan regular, Stephen Rea).

But his solitary life suddenly becomes less so when his drag net fishes up from the deeps a willowy nymph. Either she really is a selkie – half-human, half-seal – or she has done her reading, because when she plucks up the courage to talk, she tells him her name is Ondine.

Whether she is any such thing is the business of the narrative to unfurl. In the mean time, we plunge once more into that no-man’s-land so beloved of Jordan, where vampires, werewolves and trannies awaiting gender reassignment walk intriguingly among us. Ondine certainly has the doe eyes of a timid alien summoned into a frightening new world. The precocious Annie (Alison Barry), granted a new motorised wheelchair, soon noses her out in her hideaway. Annie has read a fairytale or two of her own. "Curiouser and curiouser," she is given to saying, like the heroine of her own wonderland. (How bizarre that Ondine opens in the same week as Alice in Wonderland.) The two females develop a touching co-dependency: the chatty girl who cannot walk gives wings to her imagination by ascribing mythic properties to the woman whose secretiveness makes her happy to play along.

BachledaCurus_Farrell_3534250Ondine turns the father’s head too. As played by Alicja Bachleda (pictured right), why wouldn’t she? Singing like an Odyssean siren on his boat, she can apparently make lobsters walk into his pots, salmon leap into his nets. With his winnings he acquires for her a wardrobe of little dresses and girly bits and pieces. At times, as Christopher Doyle’s camera lingers on Bachleda’s lissome contours slithering gaminely through the water like a reincarnated Ursula Andress, you could easily think they were still running the pre-feature commercials for lingerie.

Thus a love story conjures itself into a floaty sort of existence, entirely loosened from peevish earthbound things like story arc and character development. Sooner or later, though, the film has to answer the question it has posed for itself. Who or what is Ondine? Fish or flesh, fable or fact? You sense that Jordan, obsessively referring to dreams and fairytales, would much rather not have to look his audience in the eye and come clean. As the film reluctantly chooses to put away childish things and explain itself, it suddenly lurches into a rational conclusion complete with fights and guns and pile-ups.

In the end it’s all a bit mundane, not to mention hurried, as if Jordan is in a petulant rush to sign off on the narrative if he can’t remain in the fey world of his own creation. The truth is, though you wish nothing but the best for its pixie trio of reconnected characters, you’re kind of happy to leave them to it.

Watch the trailer for Ondine:

  • Ondine opens this Friday

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