Ondine

If there’s one thing that is guaranteed to get me in to a hot cinema seat it’s the promise of a movie with stunning scenery (that and/or Jake Gyllenhaal). I even saw Twilight because it was set in Alaska* – so it’s not a failsafe method of seeing a good movie, that’s for sure. But it does guarantee some degree of pleasure even if everything else fails. Obviously with a movie such as Buried, it has to have a lot of other things going for it. But with Ondine, I had great hopes – beautiful Irish scenery, the sea, Colin Farrell, mermaids… the only problem was there was nowhere to see it. It didn’t reach any of the cinemas around me. But now I have seen it and I was not disappointed.

Colin Farrell has been a favourite of mine for years. All through his ups and downs and difficulties and glories, I’ve followed him, always hoping for the best for him and from him. If anyone had to play Alexander, I was glad it was Colin, despite the hair. But with Ondine, Colin Farrell has come back to Ireland and, never mind the big budgets and special effects, here is a quiet movie about life on the edge of the world.

Ondine is the story of a fisherman from Ireland, near Cork, called Syracuse, although everyone calls him Circus, because of his behaviour as a drunk. But those days are in the past and now, on the wagon, he does his best to ignore the names while earning a living from the sea for himself and his ill daughter Annie. One day he catches in his net a young woman, Ondine, whom Annie believes must be a silkie – a lost Scottish sea creature who can live on the land for seven years iff she removes and buries her seal coat. But still there is always the threat that her silkie husband will come looking for her. In the meantime, whenever she sings, the fish fill the nets.

Ondine is not a fairytale. Life is hard for Syracuse and harder still for Annie, in desperate need of a kidney transplant. But when she gets her new wheels, a powered wheelchair, Annie is off, spending time with the beautiful and quiet Ondine. Syracuse, of course, falls in love. And that’s when the blows start and reality hits. I wished when I saw this that writer and director Neil Jordan (A Crying Game) had kept real life at bay but after thinking about it I realised that this would not have been in step with some of the harsh realities that had to be resolved.

Colin Farrell is wonderful as Syracuse – a long haired loner, so eager to do right by his daughter and not prepared for love when he catches it in his net. His chemistry with Ondine actress Alicja Bachleda is such that they did indeed become a couple. For me, the slight drawback is Annie, another precocious movie youngster. I should be more tolerant… The score by Kjartan Sveinsson is beguiling. In places, almost intrusive but not quite. It’s there to give you a shake.

To go back to the beginning of this post, I love big scenery in movies. It is there in abundance in Ondine – the photography is stunning. I also love that part of the Irish coast, having visited it several times. I was very happy to spend a couple of hours there, in a place where you could believe that the unbelievable is caught in your net, about to show you how to move your life along. I don’t think this film is for all audiences – the accent may be difficult for some – but it’s well worth your time.

*An Alaskan living next door to me in Oxford once told me that I looked as if I were an Alaskan. This remains one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me even though I don’t know if it should be.

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