Ondine

Once upon a time there was a man named Circus.  Circus the clown, he was called, because he was a drunk.  Circus did not lead a glamorous or exciting life and he was a wee touch on the dim side.  One day, Circus met a woman who seemed to have the power to change everything.  And with that, a fairy tale was born.

The fairy tale in question takes the form of the Irish movie Ondine.  Circus is really Syracuse (Colin Farrell), now two years sober and trying admirably to be a good non-custodial parent to his chronically ill daughter (Alison Barry) and shed his former nickname and reputation.  He’s a hard working fisherman living in a small town with a long memory, where luck is not abundant and surprises are usually unpleasant.  When Syracuse pulls a young woman up in his fishing net he’s surprised to find her still alive.  He’s even more surprised to find her clinging to him as a lifeline.  Ondine, as she calls herself, is quite a mystery.  Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) has no memory of her identity and no means to care for herself in a strange place.  Being a kind-hearted man, Syracuse helps her and finds his life changing.  Who is she?  What is the strange power she holds?  What is in her mysterious past?

I’m afraid I’ve made the movie sound a bit more exciting and involving than it really is.  It does sound good on paper, but the execution is just a hair too understated and the conclusion a hair too conventional for the film to work as the fairy tale it would like to be.  The pace is languid and the accents heavy and hard to understand.  There are no English captions on the DVD.

It isn’t all bad, though.  Colin Farrell is wonderful as the somber Syracuse, always trying to remind people that he is no longer Circus the Clown and using the local priest as his own personal AA chapter.  He’s reserved and not quick, but he tries as hard as he can to be a good parent and a good person, trying to distance himself from a shameful past.  It’s a quiet role in a small film and Farrell does not make it more than it is – he stays within the boundaries of his character and makes Syracuse very likable.  Without being beat over the head with it we understand that this is a man for whom life has held no miracles and he has no idea what to do when good fortune comes his way.  He’s straight-forward, uneducated and stuck in a life of hard work and few rewards.  He makes of it what he can, expecting no more.  Farrell is marvelous.

Also quite fetching is Alison Barry as his daughter.  Precocious without being obnoxious, we really like her.  We want her to get better and we secretly want her fantastical suppositions about the mysterious Ondine to be correct.  Alicja Bachleda as Ondine doesn’t fare quite as well, though she’s lovely and does have a nice air of mystery.  The script lets her down as it jerks her character in too many directions, losing her initial flowing, magical qualities as the film progresses.

The cinematography could and should be a high point but it disappoints more than a little.  While there are some very nice shots of the rugged Irish coastline, most of the film looks more generic than it should.  We get a decent feel for the working class town but no more.

Overall, Ondine is not a great movie.  It isn’t even quite a good movie.  It’s slow and whatever magic it builds at the beginning it loses steadily throughout the film.  The scripted transitions for Ondine as a character are abrupt and jarring and the conclusion is mundane and disappointing.  For fans of Farrell it’s worth a look, but everyone else can safely pass it by.   Two and a half stars out of five.

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