Ondine Review: Fails to Make a Splash
Neil Jordan is an odd fish. He’s the director behind some impressive films, and is indeed known as Ireland’s most important director. After making some UK hits like Mona Lisa, his breakthrough was the brilliant and progressive The Crying Game, followed by the impressive Interview with the Vampire. But as a director he seems to be unstable. At times an auteur, at other times a hack (The Brave One), his movies range from brilliantly distinct (The Butcher Boy) to bland and confused (In Dreams). He has failed to make the same impact in the last decade as he had in the 90’s, and his new film, the Irish-based Ondine, was an opportunity to make a fully-controlled (he wrote and directed it) independent movie that with the right reviews could propel him back into the limelight. Unfortunately, the film feels like a tired and frankly unacceptable mess.
Colin Farrell stars as Syracuse, an independent fisherman living in the village of Castletownbere, providing for himself and his daughter Annie, who lives with his ex. One day Syracuse nets in an unconscious woman called Ondine with no memory, who Syracuse eventually believes is a selkie (a type of mermaid). And as Syracuse and Ondine become romantically involved, the whole village starts talking about her, until a stranger from abroad comes to look into the situation.
If this sounds like a slightly more serious version of Splash, the actual film is even worse. For what we get is something that feels disappointingly amateurish. The story of a town enchanted by a stranger is full of poor stereotypes and familiar scenes. The worst culprit is Annie, the girl in the wheelchair, a blatant and cynical attempt to elicit sympathy in the audience. But there’s also the local priest as the Greek chorus, the Eastern European drug-dealer, etc. The dialogue feels unnatural, and many of its quirks (Annie’s use of “curioser and curioser”, the jokes about pronouncing Syracuse’s name) grow tiresome.
The only real impressive element of the film is Colin Farrell. Either the arrogant rogue or the comic buffoon, Farrell has really shown little else he can do. But this role sees him become a rather real figure, both proud yet natural, simple yet likeable. The rest of the cast, with the exception of the under-used Dervla Kirwan as Syracuse’s ex, fail to deliver. And Jordan really needs to take lessons from fellow Irishman Jim Sheridan about how to direct children.
Jordan’s direction also leaves a lot to be desired. While he can make some notable films and have a visual “voice”, there are some remarkably poor decisions made. Firstly, anyone watching the film can’t help but notice a certain perversion of some shots. The most notable is a scene where Ondine is taking a dip in the water and is met by a curious Annie. As they converse Ondine walks out of the water, and her clothes are incredibly transparent, pretty much showing every feature of Bachleda-Curu?’s figure. And if Jordan wanted us to linger on her sensuality, he really shouldn’t be doing it while she converses with a crippled child. Several other similar moments occur throughout the movie (such as a scene where she pilots a boat with her legs, bare and telescopic), and they feel more like the leer of Jordan’s gaze than a genuine erotic moment. Other simple elements seem confused. Often Syracuse’s long hair gets in his face, masking expressions. Or else dramatic moments are filmed from a distance, with the lack of close-up omitting facial expressions that we need to empathise with the characters. This is basic film-making that seems to have been neglected. And even the cinematography of the great Chris Doyle is poorly utilised, the whole film looking murky.
And so we’re left with an even bigger question mark over Jordan as a director. Can this be the same man behind greats like The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy? The man who pushed drama to its limits, and now can’t seem to get the basics right? Let’s hope he’s just having an off-day.