Ondine

Neil Jordan is one of my favorite directors (The Crying Game, Breakfast on Pluto).His characters, being Irish, strive to behave as if God is watching them, but they rarely do. They are way too human, yet their troubles, again because they’re Irish, never seem to be completely devoid of influence from a different realm. Some call it magic, others call it divine intervention, others call it just darn good storytelling. Jordan’s latest film, Ondine, is achingly romantic, old-fashioned in the way Irish fairy tales are, yet painfully modern in the way international troubles are so invasive even a small isolated towns is not immune.

Syracuse is an Irish fisherman who is always hoping “for something strange and wonderful.” In the harsh poverty of an Irish fishing town, such a mystical longing seems mad. Especially if you have no history of finding wonderful things. An irresponsible clown when he was drinking, Syracuse had become known as “Circus,” a nickname he now despises. Even after two years of sobriety, it’s hard to establish a new reputation when so much of his old one follows him like a limping shadow.

Syracuse’s only friend is the local priest (Stephen Rea) who is bound by the rules of the confessional never to reveal the insecurities and petty sins that Syracuse confesses to him. Mercifully for both men, Syracuse never asks for absolution. He just wants to talk. Syracuse admits he’s addicted to bad luck. “Bad luck is easy,” the wise priest advises him. “Happiness you have to work at.”

Syracuse’s alcoholic ex-wife lives with a boorish Scottish laborer and castigates Syracuse every time he comes to pick up their young daughter Annie (newcomer Alison Barry). Annie, a feisty, edgy child, is a kidney dialysis patient who tools around in a wheelchair. Her parents’ divorce and her illness have left her no illusions about the reliability of adults, but being her father’s daughter, she’s also an irrepressible dreamer.

One day, Syracuse hauls up his nets after a no-luck day of fishing and finds it heavy with the body of a young woman. Frantically, he does everything he can to bring her back to life. She’s human, that’s for sure. Not even a hint of mermaid scales. But she’s like no Irish lass Syracuse has ever seen. She speaks English with a halting, strange accent. She won’t tell him her real name but calls herself Ondine, French for “woman of the sea.” She has lost her memory (or claims to) and is terrified of being seen by anyone other than Syracuse. Ondine is mysterious, sensual, exotic, a damsel in distress unlike any magical creature Syracuse has ever imagined. He falls hopelessly in love — and so do we, for the images of the Irish landscape are so beckoning and the tender, tentative romance between Ondine and Syracuse is so enchanting that we want to join them in every shot, every line of the movie.

Syracuse settles Ondine in this late mother’s cottage. A small, charming place, full of good memories and far enough from town so Ondine runs no risk of being seen. Syracuse brings her clothes to wear, she finds shoes and a long leather-like coat. She is warm and dry, but never does she lose her fear of strangers. She fills the cottage with flowers and brooms out the cobwebs and brushes her lips against Syracuse’s cheek.

Little Annie, sensing that her father’s stories have suddenly taken on a hint of reality, wheels herself to the cottage and discovers Ondine swimming in the sea. She becomes convinced that Ondine is a selkie, a water creature who will live on land for seven years before she must return to her selkie husband. Annie also believes that the selkie can grant wishes and Annie desperately desires to be granted good health. With her no-nonsense wisdom and her mischievous humor, Annie becomes one of the most memorable children seen on film in ages.

Syracuse settles Ondine in this late mother’s cottage. A small, charming place, full of good memories and far enough from town so Ondine runs no risk of being seen. Syracuse brings her clothes to wear, she finds shoes and a long leather-like coat. She is warm and dry, but never does she lose her fear of strangers. She fills the cottage with flowers and brooms out the cobwebs and brushes her lips against Syracuse’s cheek.

Little Annie, sensing that her father’s stories have suddenly taken on a hint of reality, wheels herself to the cottage and discovers Ondine swimming in the sea. She becomes convinced that Ondine is a selkie, a water creature who will live on land for seven years before she must return to her selkie husband. Annie also believes that the selkie can grant wishes and Annie desperately desires to be granted good health. With her no-nonsense wisdom and her mischievous humor, Annie becomes one of the most memorable children seen on film in ages.

 

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