Fantasy and dreams have an important role in the world. There is so much of the world that we do not understand for one reason or another, be it due to our limited scope of comprehension, or because we're just dumb. Whatever the reason, Imagination, belief and the desire to explain the unknown have long been powerful influencing forces on the human psyche. We are faced constantly by the choice between what we know and what we believe. These questions are addressed in a little independent film called Ondine.
If you're like most of America, you probably haven't heard of this film. It's received little to no publicity since its US release earlier this month, as it's only been shown in independent theaters. That really is a shame, because this is a fine film that deserves to be seen.
The film follows an Irish fisherman named Syracuse (apparently his parents hated him), played by Colin Farrell. "Circus," as our hero is nicknamed (apparently his friends hated him even more), is the father of a seriously ill young firebrand named Annie, who is the only bright spot in his otherwise grey life.
On an otherwise typically poor fishing haul, Syracuse finds a beautiful young woman beguilingly tangled in his nets who says that her name is Ondine. He is mystified by this, as it apparently doesn't happen that often (hey, I live in a big city, what do I know about fishing?). Young Annie insists that the woman is a Selkie, a Celtic mythological creature that takes off its "seal suit" to become a human. Because apparently ancient Celts thought that seals were pretty hot stuff.
Oh, yeah baby, I'd club that, if you know what I mean.
Beyond that, there's not much else that I can say about the plot of this movie without spoiling things, save that it is a nearly constant struggle between the desire to believe in the unbelievable and urge explain the unexplained. It is very clearly not an American made film - the story progresses rather slowly, focusing more on how the various characters react to the situation at hand than in throwing event after event at the audience. It has a slow, smooth pace that gives the audience time to make their own conclusions about what is really going on. Is Ondine indeed something beyond the ken of conventional belief or is truly mundane?
Along the way, there are some truly shining moments between the various characters. Farrell's character of Syracuse is quiet and troubled while also maintaining a certain charm that shines through, particularly in his conversations with his priest, wonderfully played by a delightful Stephen Rea. But the character that really steals the show is that of the out-of-nowhere actress Alison Barry, who plays Syracuse's daughter, Annie. Her fierce conviction and unyieldingly optimistic view on life absolutely makes the film. She is the embodiment of childhood innocence, the incarnation of the part of us that believes in fairies, dragons, and magic. The film is almost worth watching just for her performance alone - it really is that good.
The only problem that I have in the movie is a single scene near the end of the film. I won't give away details, but it answers the question of the movie away in the most blank, obvious way imaginable. The majesty and artistry of most of the film comes from the air of mystery around Ondine, the fact that we must choose between what we think and what we believe... and then the movie basically says "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED. THIS IS WHAT IS GOING ON." And with that, all the beauty and majesty of the film is ripped away, and it feels almost as though the movie has betrayed us by doing so.
"THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS."
It's one of those instances where the movie decides that the audience doesn't get an opinion of it's own. The movie says: "This is the story that the movie is going to tell, and it'll be damned if anyone decides that the message was anything different!" This is particularly frustrating and hypocritical in this instance, as it flies in the face the rest of Ondine's theme. In a film that is all about interpretation of perceptions, the movie takes away the audience's right to interpret what they perceive! What the hell??
But despite the thoroughly disappointing ending, the movie is still worth a watch. The acting is great, the characters are solid and well-developed, and the writing is far better than a lot of movies that follow similar trains of plot. Even though the ending gives you the answers to THIS mystery, it still has a way of opening up one's eyes upon the rest of the world, showing us where we have made choices between logic and faith in our lives. The message is powerful, if subtle in its delivery.
Final Grade: B+