The notion of the fairytale and the element of magic always creates a sense of wonder and anticipation. But can a modern-day fairytale (in a world filled with the doom and gloom of harsh realities) cut it?
Fisherman Syracuse (Farrell) is struggling to stay on the straight-and-narrow. After having a wake-up call a few years back, he’s determined to do right by his young daughter Annie (Barry), who lives with her drunken mother Maura (Kirwan) and her boyfriend Alex (Curran). Annie is on a transplant list but illness doesn’t quench her spirit and curious nature. She delights in getting one up on her father by quoting all the books she has read. Syracuse, on the other hand, is a quieter type, who seems content with letting his inquisitive daughter steal the limelight.
One day, while out fishing, Syracuse lifts his nets to find a mysterious woman in them. After reviving her he is intent on seeking help, much to her annoyance. The woman, who calls herself Ondine (Bachleda), doesn't want to be seen anywhere, fuelling lots of wild theories about where exactly she came from. In an effort to amuse Annie, Syracuse paints Ondine as a mythical creature in his stories about that day, with his daughter delving into the loopholes in his story and suggesting that selkie (seal people) legend might explain the woman's existence. Annie then concocts a fairy-story, whereby Ondine will save them all from their less-than-charmed existences. Ondine, meanwhile, is more than happy to go along with the tales because sometimes fantasy is a lot more attractive than reality.
The relationship between Syracuse and his daughter Annie is played out wonderfully by Colin Farrell and the young Alison Barry, making her acting debut here. It’s simple, despite all the complications that they encounter, yet has a heartfelt depth that is always believable and engaging. The unique relationship between Syracuse and his parish priest (played by Stephen Rea) is also one of the most engaging aspects of the film, bringing a great sense of humour and fun in its familiar ease. Dervla Kirwan is also standout in her fringe role as Annie’s bitter, barely-sober mother.
'Ondine' is too subtle a film to blow you away but it is impressive in many respects, not least the wonderful acting on display. It also works as a tale of fantasy and intrigue, without all the big effects and production. In the wake of such effects as 'Leap Year', it’s also refreshing to see an Irish movie by an Irish filmmaker, a movie that represents real Ireland - no gimmicks, no sheep and no leprechauns!
Throughout, Jordan's script of fantasy is brought alive by the untouched backdrop of Castletownbere and the great ensemble cast. And, somehow, an element of magic continually shines through this very modern tale, which is often burdened with grim realities for its characters.
A tale with charm and character.