DVD Review by Dan Keohane
OK, I suppose the term “DVD Review” needs a new definition. I watched in on Netflix’s Instant Watch feature via my Roku box on my big screen TV. But let’s save the wonderment celebration of modern technology for another time and talk about what I think was the most mellow, feel-good film I had the pleasure to watch in 2010. ONDINE is a modern fairy tale about an Irish fisherman named Syracuse, struggling to right his life now that he’s sober and mend relations with his daughter. One day Syracuse day catches a woman in his fishing net. Until that moment, his life has been lived the same way, in quiet solitude, trying to repair the damages he’d caused, and always waiting for the Next Bad Thing to come his way. Syracuse is sure his luck is only bad, and it will always be that way. Until he catches a woman in his net. Then, of course, things begin to change.
I’ve always enjoyed watching Colin Farrellll perform, since his early years in the popular BBC series BALLYKISSANGEL (1999). He then came to America, lost the brogue for most of his big budget films, and, with his growing stardom, fell into the traps laid along Tinseltown’s roads for its newcomers – he drank and partied and pretty much gained a reputations as a Bad Boy (at least, according to the smattering of news blurbs read in the occasional Entertainment Weekly). Who knows if it’s true. If so, he’s come out the other end, maybe a bit beaten, but a mature, grounded actor who’s been able to expand his talent in a number of smaller films around the world, including this gem of a movie (plus some other critical faves, like IN BRUGES (2008) which I have yet to see). The role as the wayward, lonely fisherman in ONDINE seemed like such a perfect, homecoming fit. His hair is really cool, too. He shines in this understated – ok, yes, fine, fine… let’s just say it: I’m confident enough in my flaming heterosexuality that I will admit to a bit of a man-crush on this guy. Aside from being a sharp-edged, keen actor, he’s friggin’ hot, as is his co-star, a little known Polish actor named Alicja Backela who plays Ondine, pulled from the net, and who insists on hiding from other people. Backela’s performance was quiet and a bit rough around the edges, but in a sweet, real way. Of course, she also has those movie star drop-dead good looks which, along with Farrelll, makes this film easy to watch. Probably a good thing, since, though much of the scenery is wide and expansive and as beautiful as Ireland is without really ever trying, it’s always foggy or raining – hey, it’s Great Britain, where the weather isn’t always as sunny and bright as the brochures make it seem. It rains a lot, and the weather plays such a powerful role in the movie: isolating, bleak.
ONDINE is not a bleak movie, however. The characters have a lot of hang-ups, dealing with emotional and relationship troubles, but the film carries throughout itself an overall sense of joy, of family. As I was saying before I got way off track, Syracuse is a recovering alcoholic trying to get his life back together, specifically spending time with his young daughter, Annie, a precocious 12-something whose kidneys have been failing. She needs regular dialysis treatments, and since her mother works a regular day job Syracuse is the one to take her. The strongest scenes are not between the two adult leads, Farrelll and Backela, though these two are great together, but Farrelll and young Alison Barry, who plays his precocious daughter Annie. Such love of father and daughter jumps off the screen, especially in scenes where Annie needs to go in for dialysis treatments. To make the time pass and distract her from the treatment, he lays with Annie in bed and makes up fairy tale stories. There is a great chemistry both between them as actors, and also Syracuse and Annie as characters. You sense a great love between them. He begins to tell his daughter a story of a fisherman who pulls a mermaid from his nets, outlining for his daughter, in make-believe story form, what was actually happening in his life. The strange woman hiding from the world, staying in the man’s house, his luck suddenly changing.
Annie becomes fascinated with the tale, and goes to the library to research it, she discovers that the woman in her Da’s story is not a mermaid, but in fact a Selke (pronounced Seek), basically seal which has shed its seal cost, and comes to land to live for a while. According to legend, they have to go back unless they find a husband. If this happens, they forget where they hid their old skin and stay on land for the rest of their lives. Or something. It’s weird, but sweet. When Annie discovers her Da’s story is actually true, and meets the woman in the flesh (literally in the flesh… Backela spends a lot of time only partially dressed), she takes an instant liking to her. After all, what child wouldn’t want their father to be happy with someone who loves him unconditionally?
Is beautiful Ondine a Silke, or a mermaid, or just a lost soul brought together with another lost soul to try to make the world right again? Well, that’s the story now, ain’t it? It’s a beautifully filmed and uber-romantic drama about redemption, fortune, and the luck we make, versus the luck we sometimes rely on.
Speaking of luck, my favorite line in the movie is this:
Misery is easy, happiness you have to work at.
This line is spoken by a priest to Syracuse, who happens to be sitting in a tree sulking at the time (I think that’s the scene). Stephen Rea (THE CRYING GAME, 1992, V IS FOR VENDETTA, 1996) plays the parish priest, not that Syracuse goes to church very often. Mostly to confession to talk to the man about his life and how his non-drinking is going. It’s a great interaction between Rea and Farrelll, in the few scenes they share.
Syracuse also has to deal with his angry ex-wife, still bitter over his past failings and never failing to remind him of this. Dervlin Kerwa brings another strong performance to the film. Loud, angry, with her own issues, including drinking. Seriously, this quiet film has some major good roles in it and equally good, if understated by necessity, acting.
Hmm? Why am I reviewing a foreign love story on CKF? Well, there’s a mermaid in it… or a Selke… maybe. You know, could go either way. Who is Ondine? What can she do, where did she come from? In the end, the answers are almost anticlimactic, compared to her connection with Syracuse and his daughter, and the magic that comes from a found love, always stronger than the magic that comes from a –
…never mind. Just finish up before the sugar plum fairies come and begin peeing on the rug.
OK. Fine. Needed to finish anyway because I need to go over… there and chop some wood, maybe wrestle me some gators.
Good… that’s good. And no more Colin Farrelll movies.
Well, can’t guarantee –
Fine. For a quiet, romantic movie threaded through with magic realism, some fantasy and lots of water, half naked beautiful people and a girl with bad shoes in a wheelchair, ONDINE makes for a really good date movie. I give it 4 wavy locks of hair out of 5. Enjoy, and always be kind to others, and to yourself!
That’s it. You’re fired.
© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane
(Editor’s note: I have no idea who Dan is having a conversation with at the end of this article, but it’s not me ~ LLS)