At the close of a dark, dreary day as a lonely Irish fisherman reels in his nets, lo and behold, he spies a woman! Choking and sputtering, she’s barely alive. And so begins Neil Jordan’s charming fable, set in the tiny coastal village of Castletownbere on the craggy Beara peninsula in County Cork.
Hard-working Syracuse (Colin Farrell) is a down-on-his-luck recovering alcoholic. He dotes on his disabled 10 year-old daughter, Annie (Alison Berry), taking her for weekly dialysis while she waits for a kidney transplant.
“Anything strange or wonderful?” he always inquires when he visits at the end of the day. Annie lives with her hard-drinking mum (Dervia Kirwan) and her mum’s boyfriend (Tony Curran). But, today, it’s Syracuse who’s had the astonishing experience of encountering “the girl who came from the water.” Calling herself Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) after the legendary water sprite, she could be one of those asylum-seekers or, as Annie suspects, a “selkie,” a seal-creature who, according to folklore, periodically emerges from the sea, falls in love with a mortal, only to return to the briny deep.
“Curiouser and curiouser” is the way articulate Annie views Ondine, whom Syracuse stashes in his late mother’s tiny seaside cottage, much to the consternation of the local priest (Stephen Rea). When she accompanies Syracuse on his boat, Ondine sings – and, suddenly, inexplicably, lobsters abound and the nets are full of salmon. That is, until a mysterious stranger (Emil Hostina) arrives, threatening Ondine’s peace and tranquility.
While beguiling Alison Berry steals every scene she’s in, Colin Farrell acquits himself with gentle, roguish warmth, and Polish model Alicja Bachleda (who now lives with Farrell and has borne him a son) is ethereal and enigmatic. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle visually augments Jordan’s (“The Crying Game”) haunting tale, as does the music of Kjartan Sveinsson of Icelandic band Sigur Ros; it’s just too bad that some supporting players’ thick Irish accents are difficult to decipher.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ondine” is a fanciful 7, a lyrical, bittersweet redemptive tale that lightens your heart with a delectable bit of Irish blarney. And if you enjoy this kind of whimsical tale, rent John Sayles’ “The Secret of Roan Inish” (1994).