Movies: Ondine * * *
(12, general release)
When co-stars start a high-profile love affair during filming, the intense pre-publicity often tends to overwhelm the arrival of the finished product (just look at The Break-Up and Mr and Mrs Smith). In the case of Ondine, awareness of the real-life relationship between Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda is only a minor distraction from their screen romance in this sweet and offbeat pseudo-fantasy.
Written and directed by Neil Jordan, Farrell stars as Syracuse, a loner West Cork fisherman who one day hauls up a beautiful, semi-naked woman in his deep-sea net. This mysterious water lady (played by Bachleda) names herself Ondine after a mythical water spirit -- a 'selkie' -- causing the troubled Syracuse to question whether or not she's even real.
Be that as it may, Syracuse's luck starts to change and, with the encouragement of his young wheelchair-bound daughter Annie (Alison Barry), he tentatively begins to hope for a happy ever after -- meaning, of course, that there must be a twist in the tale.
The dreamy, wistful and lyrical tone of Ondine is established from the start by the prominence of Lisa Hannigan and Sigur Ros on the soundtrack, and by Christopher Doyle's beautiful cinematography. But Jordan grounds the fantastical element of the story with an unfussy, very Irish common-sense touch, mostly conveyed through 10-year-old newcomer Barry, who all but steals the movie as the precocious but delicate daughter.
Farrell is strong in the lead role as a broken man learning to reconnect with his inner world, but Bachleda has the more difficult job, playing a character that -- for the sake of the story -- has to remain frustratingly unknowable. This is the movie's main problem: it tries to have it both ways. Is it really a fairytale or is there a more logical explanation for events?
This deliberate ambiguity results in a movie that is ultimately unsatisfactory both as a fantasy romance and as a mystery. That said, Ondine remains a beguiling and at-times powerful statement on life's "strange and remarkable" capacity to find love in the most unexpected of ways and places.