Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Ondine

Colin Farrell's understated performance is the main attraction in this intermittently charming but largely bland fairy tale from writer-director Neil Jordan.

May 12, 2010

-By Ethan Alter


filmjournal/photos/stylus/138576-Ondine_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Of all the U.K.-based filmmakers who achieved international recognition in the ’80s—a group that includes such notable names as Stephen Frears and Jim Sheridan—Neil Jordan has arguably had the most interesting and varied career. Since breaking through with the 1986 thriller Mona Lisa, the Irish writer-director has helmed films of all different genres and budget sizes, from art-house phenoms (The Crying Game) to blockbuster star vehicles (Interview with the Vampire), to smaller, more personal projects (The Butcher Boy). He's also made movies that fit into less prestigious categories, such as fascinating messes (In Dreams), thrill-less thrillers (The Brave One) and well-intentioned disappointments (Michael Collins).

If one were to assign Jordan's latest effort, Ondine, a place in his canon, it would fall somewhere between small, personal project and well-intentioned disappointment. Eminently watchable, but ultimately slight and unmemorable, this fairy-tale-influenced romantic drama feels like a deliberately minor work from a director who often challenges himself to take bold aesthetic and narrative risks, even in the movies that fall short. And when the person behind the camera is unable to fully invest himself in the picture, neither can those of us in the audience watching it.

Jordan's mind may seemingly be elsewhere, but fortunately his star Colin Farrell is fully engaged with the proceedings, continuing his recent career renaissance with another focused and nuanced performance. In a role that must have been written with him in mind, the former bad boy plays Syracuse, a recovering alcoholic who makes his living trawling the waters near his picturesque hometown on the Irish coast. One day—or, to use the proper fairy-tale terminology, once upon a time—his fishing nets pick up the prone body of a beautiful woman (Alicja Bachleda). After reviving her, Syracuse welcomes this sweet-natured but people-shy stranger into his home and soon notices some odd things about her behavior. For one thing, she insists the he call her Ondine, which roughly translates as "from the water." She also speaks English with an unfamiliar accent and her native tongue is unlike any language he's ever heard before. And then there's the matter of her beautiful singing voice, which is somehow capable of luring whole schools of fish into his boat's traps.

It takes Syracuse's daughter Annie (Alison Barry), a precocious youngster with a potentially fatal kidney disease that keeps her wheelchair-bound, to put two and two together: Ondine isn't a woman, but a selkie—a Scottish variation on a mermaid. (Instead of a half-human, half-fish hybrid, a selkie is a seal-like creature that becomes human when it sheds its skin on land.) Ondine laughs when informed of her "real" identity, but she doesn't deny it or offer another explanation for how she came to be floating in the exact spot where Syracuse fishes everyday. Annie's improbable hypothesis takes root in her father's mind, muddying the romantic feelings he's starting to feel for his houseguest. Meanwhile, another stranger arrives in town searching for Ondine and his presence may hold the key to answering the "Is she a selkie or isn't she?" question once and for all.

Material like this could easily have been played for maximum cutesiness and sentimentality—one of the main characters is a kid in a wheelchair, for crying out loud—but to Jordan's credit, he opts for a low-key approach that keeps the proceedings on an even keel. He also wisely refrains from overemphasizing the film's fantasy elements in its visual palette or storytelling structure. Ondine clearly aspires to be a serious drama that resembles a fairy tale rather than the other way around. At least, that's the way Farrell approaches the film and he does a fine job bringing Syracuse to life as a believable, relatable character.

Sadly, his co-star isn't quite up to the task; Bachleda is certainly easy on the eyes, but there's no spark to her performance. Then again, Ondine is a problematic role—she's a bystander for much of the film until a late-inning revelation retroactively makes her seem like a confused naïf at best and an opportunistic freeloader at worst. The movie jumps the selkie completely in the final act, which culminates in a climax marred by muddy visuals (it's hard to believe these scenes were lensed by noted cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the man behind the lush images in Zhang Yimou's Hero and Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love) and contrived plot points. Jordan will always be an interesting filmmaker, but Ondine is perhaps his least interesting movie.


Film Review: Ondine

Colin Farrell's understated performance is the main attraction in this intermittently charming but largely bland fairy tale from writer-director Neil Jordan.

May 12, 2010

-By Ethan Alter


filmjournal/photos/stylus/138576-Ondine_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Of all the U.K.-based filmmakers who achieved international recognition in the ’80s—a group that includes such notable names as Stephen Frears and Jim Sheridan—Neil Jordan has arguably had the most interesting and varied career. Since breaking through with the 1986 thriller Mona Lisa, the Irish writer-director has helmed films of all different genres and budget sizes, from art-house phenoms (The Crying Game) to blockbuster star vehicles (Interview with the Vampire), to smaller, more personal projects (The Butcher Boy). He's also made movies that fit into less prestigious categories, such as fascinating messes (In Dreams), thrill-less thrillers (The Brave One) and well-intentioned disappointments (Michael Collins).

If one were to assign Jordan's latest effort, Ondine, a place in his canon, it would fall somewhere between small, personal project and well-intentioned disappointment. Eminently watchable, but ultimately slight and unmemorable, this fairy-tale-influenced romantic drama feels like a deliberately minor work from a director who often challenges himself to take bold aesthetic and narrative risks, even in the movies that fall short. And when the person behind the camera is unable to fully invest himself in the picture, neither can those of us in the audience watching it.

Jordan's mind may seemingly be elsewhere, but fortunately his star Colin Farrell is fully engaged with the proceedings, continuing his recent career renaissance with another focused and nuanced performance. In a role that must have been written with him in mind, the former bad boy plays Syracuse, a recovering alcoholic who makes his living trawling the waters near his picturesque hometown on the Irish coast. One day—or, to use the proper fairy-tale terminology, once upon a time—his fishing nets pick up the prone body of a beautiful woman (Alicja Bachleda). After reviving her, Syracuse welcomes this sweet-natured but people-shy stranger into his home and soon notices some odd things about her behavior. For one thing, she insists the he call her Ondine, which roughly translates as "from the water." She also speaks English with an unfamiliar accent and her native tongue is unlike any language he's ever heard before. And then there's the matter of her beautiful singing voice, which is somehow capable of luring whole schools of fish into his boat's traps.

It takes Syracuse's daughter Annie (Alison Barry), a precocious youngster with a potentially fatal kidney disease that keeps her wheelchair-bound, to put two and two together: Ondine isn't a woman, but a selkie—a Scottish variation on a mermaid. (Instead of a half-human, half-fish hybrid, a selkie is a seal-like creature that becomes human when it sheds its skin on land.) Ondine laughs when informed of her "real" identity, but she doesn't deny it or offer another explanation for how she came to be floating in the exact spot where Syracuse fishes everyday. Annie's improbable hypothesis takes root in her father's mind, muddying the romantic feelings he's starting to feel for his houseguest. Meanwhile, another stranger arrives in town searching for Ondine and his presence may hold the key to answering the "Is she a selkie or isn't she?" question once and for all.

Material like this could easily have been played for maximum cutesiness and sentimentality—one of the main characters is a kid in a wheelchair, for crying out loud—but to Jordan's credit, he opts for a low-key approach that keeps the proceedings on an even keel. He also wisely refrains from overemphasizing the film's fantasy elements in its visual palette or storytelling structure. Ondine clearly aspires to be a serious drama that resembles a fairy tale rather than the other way around. At least, that's the way Farrell approaches the film and he does a fine job bringing Syracuse to life as a believable, relatable character.

Sadly, his co-star isn't quite up to the task; Bachleda is certainly easy on the eyes, but there's no spark to her performance. Then again, Ondine is a problematic role—she's a bystander for much of the film until a late-inning revelation retroactively makes her seem like a confused naïf at best and an opportunistic freeloader at worst. The movie jumps the selkie completely in the final act, which culminates in a climax marred by muddy visuals (it's hard to believe these scenes were lensed by noted cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the man behind the lush images in Zhang Yimou's Hero and Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love) and contrived plot points. Jordan will always be an interesting filmmaker, but Ondine is perhaps his least interesting movie.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Laggies
Film Review: Laggies

Disappointing comedic entry about a late-20s slacker who won’t grow up is writer/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s first outing directing someone else’s material. Points here for strong cast and an occasional chuckle, but otherwise there’s just no point. More »

Rudderless
Film Review: Rudderless

Well-done indie drama about a lost-soul house painter reborn through rock ’n’ roll is a nice actor’s showcase for star Billy Crudup and an impressive directorial debut for actor William H. Macy. But in spite of some good work onscreen, both hero and story lack the edge and originality to carry this drama beyond respectability. More »

Camp X-Ray
Film Review: Camp X-Ray

Army guard and Guantanamo detainee form a grudging relationship in a thoughtful but far-fetched drama. More »

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Film Review: The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

As charming as it is delicate, this unusually low-key, if a tad overlong, animated feature brings yet more prestige to the famed Ghibli output. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Birdman
Film Review: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Virtuosic camerawork and a stellar ensemble of actors more than make up for the occasional moment of portentous twaddle in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest—and maybe his best—film. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here