Ondine (dir. Neil Jordan, 2009)This subtle Irish fantasy starts with a simple, albeit unexpected, framework: a compassionate fisherman named Syracuse (a career-high Colin Farrell) pulls a young woman (Alicja Bachleda) up in his net. She can’t remember anything, but calls herself Ondine, after the 1811 French novel in which a water spirit falls in love with a knight. The mystery of Ondine’s identity, and her seemingly magical powers to call fish into their nets, provides the main crux of the story. Until the very end, you’re not sure what the film’s genre is. If it’s a drama, then it’s a very surreal and beautiful one. If it’s a fantasy, then it’s a dark and sensual one that’s not certain to have a happy ending.Over the film’s foundation, it builds layer upon layer of weight and relationships. Alison Barry plays Syracuse’s daughter, struggling from kidney failure, who becomes convinced that Ondine is a selkie straight out of Celtic myth. Syracuse’s ex-wife Maura (Dervla Kirwan) blames him for their present troubles, and seeks refuge in alcohol and a grizzled musician. Meanwhile, Syracuse tries to atone for his past sins (including some hilarious sequences with a village priest played by Stephen Rea) and avoid making any new ones, despite the undeniable attraction he feels to the beautiful Ondine.Music is a driving force throughout the film. The score is done by Kjartan Sveinsson of the band Sigur Ros, and his haunting arrangements perfectly capture the mythology of the film. Folk ballads from Irish musicians like Lisa Hannigan provide a counterpoint, grounding the film in solid human emotion. It’s a shame there’s no soundtrack album available, as it would be a must-buy and would certainly introduce some Irish artists to a wider audience. Another glaring omission is the lack of English subtitles, which means some of the heavier-accented conversations may need to be rewound a few times. Despite this, Ondine is one of my most-recommended DVDs of the year: a treat for the eyes, ears, and soul.
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