Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 06/26/10 02:29:07

"This mermaid doesn’t sound much like Jodi Bensen."
3 stars (Average)

Because of the glut of vampire movies out there lately, it was only a matter of time before mermaid flicks started reemerging. Irish writer-director Neil Jordan seems a reasonable choice for making the film. He’s specialized in making movies that feature either mystical forces (‘The Company of Wolves,’ ‘Interview with the Vampire’) or unrequited love (‘Mona Lisa,’ ‘The Crying Game’), so this type of story should be up his alley. Curiously, Jordan isn’t sure what kind of mermaid movie to make.

“Ondine” is actually about two or three potentially good movies crammed into one. While the film often seems at war with itself, Jordan and his able cast emerge with enough satisfying moments to get past the confusion.

Colin Farrell stars as a brooding fisherman named Syracuse. The locals in his seaside Irish village refer to him as the “Circus Clown” because of the embarrassing things he’d do under the influence of booze. He’s now on the wagon, but people’s memories die hard.

In addition to his inherently dangerous and insecure career, the divorced Syracuse also has a chronically sick but intimidatingly bright child named Annie (Alison Barry). While cute and precocious tots are the norms in films like these, Barry is likable enough to make the cliché less irritating.

Syracuse’s dim luck changes radically when a young woman (Alicja Bachleda) winds up in his net. He revives her, but she’s adamant that he keep her hidden away. Because the village is too small to have its own Alcoholics Anonymous chapter, it’s a safe bet the secret will be revealed quickly.

She calls herself “Ondine,” after the water nymphs of German legends. The name fits because she’s certainly not a normal girl. She speaks with a slight accent and sings hauntingly whenever Syracuse takes her out in his boat. Whenever he takes her with him, his catch becomes miraculously bountiful.

She also gets close to Annie, who thinks she may be a selkie. That’s a Celtic term for a woman who has a seal coat and who has the option of choosing to be a seal or a human.

Polish actress Bachleda has a distant look in her eyes, so it’s easy to believe she might be something other than flesh and bone. Jordan shoots “Ondine” in a matter of fact style, so it’s hard to tell if she’s from the sea or if her origins are more mundane.

The film actually loses some of its momentum when her origins are actually revealed. “Ondine” abruptly shifts from being a light comedy to a mystical romance to a thriller, so it’s unnecessarily disorienting. When the film does work, it’s hard not to wish that Jordan had found a tone he wanted to establish and had settled on it.

Farrell has some drolly entertaining exchanges with Jordan regular Stephen Rea, who plays the local Catholic priest. Syracuse is lapsed but can’t attend AA meetings, so the poor father has to settle for hearing his sometimes bizarre confessions.

The locations are consistently gorgeous, and cinematographer Christopher Doyle (“Hero,” “Chungking Express”) makes the most of them. Icelandic keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson’s score does a nice job of evoking the atmosphere without telegraphing what viewers are supposed to feel during each scene.

Taken apart the elements of “Ondine” are intriguing. Perhaps mermaids are such complicated subjects that a single film doesn’t do them justice. On second thought, maybe it’s better to have a mishmash like “Ondine” instead of a franchise of mediocre offerings.

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