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3 reviews, 2 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"No Longer Waiting For The Miracle"
4 stars

Although I am lucky enough to see most movies before all of their funniest jokes and most shocking plot developments have been spoiled for me, I often try to go into most screenings with at least some vague working knowledge of what the premise of the film in question is supposed to be so I can spend the early reels concentrating less on what is happening than in how it is happening. One time when this particular approach backfired completely on me was in the case of “The Miracle,” a strange, low-budget drama made by Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan in his homeland in 1991 as a way of recharging his creative batteries after spending a few years inside the Hollywood machine and coming up with the fairly woeful likes of “High Spirits” and “We’re No Angels.” The basic one-line premise of the film, for those of you who haven’t seen it (and I suspect that would be the majority of you), is that an odd young man living in an isolated seaside village finds his life turned upside-down when he meets a mysterious and blonde woman with a secret who appears one day out of nowhere and becomes drawn into a relationship with her. For reasons lost to the mists of time, I had somehow gotten it into my head that the woman’s secret was that she was actually a mermaid and therefore spent a good deal of the running time trying to figure out how Jordan was going to finally work that aspect in until the real secret was revealed and I realized that I had made a big mistake somewhere along the line. (I wouldn’t dream of revealing the actual secret here, though the relative unavailability of the film in recent years will probably make it difficult to look it up for yourself.) Ever since then, I have occasionally wondered what kind of film might have resulted if Jordan had taken on that particular plot development and it seems that Jordan must have wondered about it as well since his latest film, “Ondine,” winds up doing exactly that.

As the film opens, Syracuse (Colin Farrell), a not particularly successful fisherman living in a small seaside town in Ireland, is going about his daily business when he pulls up a net from the depths containing a beautiful and seemingly dead young woman (Alicja Bachleda) who magically comes back to life before her eyes, claims her name to be Ondine and insists that no one else can lay eyes upon her. Finding none of this to be particularly unusual, Syracuse takes her back to his isolated home and with the help of his precocious and sickly young daughter, Annie (Alison Barry), it is determined that Ondine may be a selkie, a seal-like creature from Celtic myth that can remove its coat and live on land in human form. (For further selkie-related information, please consult John Sayles’ delightful 1994 film “The Secret of Roan Inish” as quickly as possible.) As time goes on, Syracuse and Ondine grow closer (though not quite as close as in the original version, thanks to the big sex scene being heavily edited in this country, reportedly to earn the film a PG-13 rating) and she seems to be bring him some much needed luck in his professional and personal lives. Everything goes swimmingly for a while until the appearance of a mysterious stranger in town causes events to take a turn for the darker--is he Ondine’s selkie husband come to take her back to the sea or does he represent an even more sinister part of her mysterious past.

At this point in the proceedings, roughly two-thirds of the way through the film by my count, “Ondine” hums along quite nicely. Like many of Jordan’s previous films, it is at heart a love story about two wildly different people and the virtually impossible relationship that develops between them and the move to recast it in the form of an adult-oriented fairy tale is an interesting one indeed. The screenplay does an excellent job of merging the real and the fantastic and his direction is equally impressive in conveying the tale in a refreshingly subtle and ambiguous manner that never tips its hand too far in one direction or the other. As for the performances, Colin Farrell is really good in a surprisingly low-key turn as Syracuse--this is some of the best work that he has done to date and serves as a reminder that there is indeed a powerful actor beneath all the tabloid headlines. Although many people may find themselves too distracted by her beauty to notice, Alicja Bachleda is equally good in a role that is a lot trickier than it seems--her character needs to be both mysterious and approachable and if she fails in either regard--which she doesn’t--the whole story would fall apart in an instant. The cinematography by ace lensman Christopher Doyle is impressive as well in the way that it simultaneously suggests both the fantastic and the ordinary throughout. Hell, even the deletion of the aforementioned nudity doesn’t prove to be that big of a problem because it helps the film maintain its fairy-tale feel. (Besides, horndogs there is an extended scene in which she emerges from the water in her underwear to converse with Annie that more than makes up for its absence.) If you had asked me what I thought of the film at this point, I would have remarked that I liked it a lot and that it would have to go completely off the rails to change that viewpoint.

Sadly, it is precisely at this point that “Ondine” begins to go completely off the rails with one of the least successful conclusions to an otherwise fine film in recent memory. Without going into too much detail, Jordan abandons the ambiguous nature of the story and begins explaining everything about the plot and characters in detail and the result is the cinematic equivalent of the boy who cut open his drum in order to figure out how it made its noise. I don’t object to him providing some kind of explanation and resolution for the events that we have been watching but man, oh man, couldn’t he have come up with something better than what he has given us here. Without going into details, the entire thing is suddenly reduced to the level of a crude and violent melodrama that is completely at odds with what has gone before it and as it goes on and on, I found myself increasingly filled with despair as to the direction it was heading while trying to figure what the point to all of it was. If Jordan is trying to suggest that the real world has a nasty habit of infringing on the most idyllic fantasies, I would humbly suggest that this is hardly a wake-up-and-smell-the-Guinness notion that he seems to think that it is. Frankly, the only good thing about the final passage is that it could help to inspire any number of fascinating post-screening conversations--after the film, you can get together with your friends over dinner and hash out a far more satisfying and coherent finale than the one seen here. My guess is that you will have at least one before the main course arrives.

The misbegotten final scenes do hurt “Ondine” to some degree but it says a lot about the strengths of the rest of the film that they don’t do enough damage to completely harm it. Granted, it isn’t for everyone and sensation junkies may find themselves growing restless with the slow and steady manner in which Jordan spins his tall tale but others will find both the film and his approach refreshing, especially in a season where practically every film in release is going for the hard sell. It may not be one of Jordan’s masterworks such as “The Crying Game” or “The Butcher Boy” but it does serve as a reminder that he can be one of the most interesting filmmakers around when he puts his mind to it. Besides, with this film, he has finally provided me with closure in regards to my mistake regarding “The Miracle” after nearly twenty years and for that, if nothing else, I can recommend “Ondine.” Now all he has to do is publicly apologize for “The Brave One” and we will be completely square.

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originally posted: 06/11/10 13:59:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 13th Annual European Union Film Festival For more in the 13th Annual European Union Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Provincetown International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Provincetown International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/07/10 DUKE7734 Saw dvd...NO SUBTITLES for the Irish english??!! 3 stars
6/05/10 Ronald Holst It is interesting Different and I was bord stiff . 4 stars
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  04-Jun-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Sep-2010


  DVD: 21-Sep-2010

Directed by
  Neil Jordan

Written by
  Neil Jordan

  Colin Farrell
  Stephen Rea
  Dervla Kirwan
  Alicja Bachleda
  Tom Archdeacon
  Don Wycherley

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