Ondine might not be Neil Jordan’s most enduring film (considering his portfolio includes films like like The Crying Game, The End of the Affair, Michael Collins, and The Butcher Boy), but it’s one of his most magical. Colin Farrell stars as Syracuse, a poor Irish fisherman and a recovering alcoholic in great need of a Pick-Me-Up bouquet. When a beautiful girl—yes, a real live beautiful girl (dreamy newcomer Alicja Bachleda, whom Farrell married this year)—washes up in his net, he’s not sure quite to make of the mystery. His young daughter knows though; she’s convinced that Ondine is actually a silkie, a legendary magical creature that shape-shifts between human and seal froms. The gradual unfolding of the truth is the business of the film.
It’s a tribute to Jordan both that he’s able to treat that mystery with a straight face, and that he’s able to allow its unfolding to happen at a glacial pace without losing the momentum of the story. The film’s atmosphere is perfectly suited to its setting, a rural Irish town where daily routines seldom change, where things happen slowly, but where magic could be hiding around any corner. The reveal is of secondary import compared to the journey to it.
Farrell continues to turn in criminally underrated performances between his stints in the tabloids. His turns in In Bruges and Crazy Heart were remarkable, and he’s just as strong here, especially in portraying a man of so few words. “I loved Syracuse; it was the first time in 12 years that at the end of the film I wasn’t ready to walk away from the character,” he told Paste. He also was moved by the audacity of telling a fairy tale set in our own time: “There’s a deep, deep oral tradition in our country of shared stories, and a need to believe in a mythology, and an attraction to stories that are more ethereal. We went away from that for awhile, but it seems like now __there’s more of a focus on the spectral side of things.”
Recommended for anyone with a tolerance for modern-day fairy tales.