Customer Reviews: Ondine
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According to the dictionary an 'ondine is a water nymph or water spirit, the elemental of water. They are usually found in forest pools and waterfalls. They have beautiful voices, which are sometimes heard over the sound of water. According to some legends, ondines cannot get a soul unless they marry a man and bear him a child. This aspect has led them to be a popular motif in romantic and tragic literature.' Another bit of background information that aids the viewer of this little rarity of a film, ONDINE, is the bit of folklore often referred to in the film - that Ondine is a 'selkie': 'In Irish folklore, there are many stories about creatures who can transform themselves from seals to humans. These beings are called selkies. The seals would come up onto rocks or beaches and take off their skins, revealing the humans underneath. There is no agreement among the stories of how often they could make this transformation. Some say it was once a year on Midsummer's Eve, while others say it could be every ninth night. Once ashore, the selkies were said to dance and sing in the moonlight. One of the most common themes found in selkie folklore is romantic tragedy. Selkie women were supposed to be so beautiful that no man could resist them. They were said to have perfect proportions and dark hair. They also made excellent wives. For this reason, one of the most common selkie stories is that of a man stealing a selkie woman's sealskin. Without her skin, she cannot return to the sea, and so she marries the human man and has children with him. She is a good wife and mother, but because her true home is in the sea, she always longs for it. In the stories, she ends up finding her sealskin that her husband has hidden, or one of her children unwittingly finds it and brings it to her. According to legend, once a selkie find her skin again, neither chains of steel nor chains of love can keep her from the sea. She returns to the ocean, usually leaving her children behind with their grief-stricken father'.

All of this information may seem redundant, but when a beautiful little film such as ONDINE, written and directed by the always excellent Neil Jordan, knowing the background helps support the manner in which the story is told and revealed. Syracuse (Colin Farrell) is a recovering alcoholic fisherman whose alcoholic wife has custody of his beloved daughter Annie (Allison Barry) who because of renal failure must be dialyzed frequently and spend her days in a motorized wheelchair while she awaits a kidney transplant. Syracuse focuses his life on Annie - until one day while fishing he brings up a beautiful girl in his nets, a frightened girl named Ondine (Alicja Bachleda, a brilliant Polish actress and singer from Mexico) who fears being seen by anyone. Syracuse protects and clothes her and secludes her in his dead mothers shack by the sea - until Annie discovers her, having researched everything she could fine at the library about the selkies. Annie decides Ondine is selkie who must bury her seal coat in the earth and thus gain seven years on land without having return to the sea. With this mixture of myth and reality the story moves along at a gentle pace: Syracuse frequents the priest (Stephen Rea) confessional (his only available semblance of an AA stabilizer in his small village), Annie and Ondine bond, Syracuse and Ondine fall in love (despite the myth's warning that every selkie has a husband), and the townsfolk begin to accept the strange happiness that has returned to Syracuse's heart. The plot then twists and the realities of the myth become known and the story progresses from a recreation of a mythical romance to the difficulties of a true romance.

The chemistry between Farrell and Bachleda and Farrell and Barry is extraordinary and palpable: they make the film sing. The haunting musical score is by Kjartan Sveinsson and the moody cinematography is by Christopher Doyle. Neil Jordan pulls all of these elements together into a film that will linger in memory - like the song Ondine sings. There have been novels, operas, ballets, and plays written based on this myth, but few capture its mystery the way this film does. It is a quiet little gem of art. Grady Harp, June, 10
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on June 24, 2010
So far, one of the two most enchanting movies I have seen this year is "Ondine." [The other enchanting movie is also from Ireland - the impossibly gorgeous animated film titled "The Secret of Kells"]. Ostensibly, "Ondine" is a film about a lonely post alcoholic fisherman who nets a beautiful woman from his boat and saves her life. She insists she wants to be isolated from the world, and the fisherman (Colin Farrell playing the role of "Syracuse") respects her wishes. Her mysteriousness leads him to wonder, and in telling his disabled daughter the story of the event, she imagines that he has captured a selkie - half woman/half seal. The reviewer Grady Harp gives an excellent overview of the selkie legend. Director Neil Jordan goes back to a theme he expertly explored in "The Crying Game" in which a lost man gets a second chance and finds spiritual renewal in a surprise relationship with a woman - or someone who resembles a woman. The chemistry between the male and female leads is palpable but understated - spoken in silences and eyes and gestures.

There are many elements that make this a truly wonderful film experience. There is a lovely soundtrack without overplaying Irish music...the misty Irish sea...the myth of the Selkie...the honest performances from all the principal actors and actresses. Ironically, the real find is Allison Barry as the young daughter with renal failure who is smart, curious, gutsy, and totally believable. She is a welcome change from the teenagers on Disney TV.

Naturally, the fisherman falls in love with the selkie and the obstacles to that romance fill the second half of the film. Stephen Rea gives a standout performance as an Irish priest who serves as a quiet listener to the fisherman's tale and helps guide him without being overly moralistic.

So for my vote - this IS the chic flic of 2010. The Minneapolis Star Tribune opined "Ondine is so good it hurts." I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a postscript, the song that the selkie sings is truly magical.
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VINE VOICEon July 23, 2010
Soft, tender and beautifully restrained, `Ondine' is a magical film that left me feeling a warmth in my bones I hadn't felt walking out of a theater in quite a while. I have been anxiously awaiting this films opening for some time now, beings that I had first read of it last year, but it wasn't until about a month ago that it opened in my neck of the woods and I dragged the wife down to one of those posh `Independent' theaters that I love so much to see this `adult fairytale' for myself.

I was simply captivated.

The film centers around a lost soul (well, quite a few of them actually) who have to come to terms with circumstance and situation, all of which dampen their existence. Syracuse is a reformed alcoholic fisherman who struggles to care for his handicapped daughter (the poor girls suffers from kidney failure) while battling his ex-wife and her new man, both of whom are still heavy drinkers. One morning Syracuse sees something strange in his net; a woman. She insists that he tell no one of her whereabouts, and so he allows her to stay in his mother's home (she's deceased). Syracuse's daughter stumbles upon this mysterious woman (who goes by the name Ondine, which means `she came from the sea') and instantly believes that she is a selkie, a sea-woman who wears a seal coat and is allowed to come to land and live for seven years if she sheds seven tears, buries her seal-coat and falls in love with a lands-man (it's Celtic myth, and I may have got it a tad wrong so correct me if you feel the need). Regardless of what or who Ondine is, it is instantly apparent that she is very good for both Annie and Syracuse, and they are good for her as well. You can see them come out of the depression that circles their lives and begin to live, spirits uplifted and futures bright.


Well, I don't think it would be too telling to state that not all is as it seems and dark secrets are bound to come to the light.

`Ondine' is a beautiful film to look at, complete with stunning cinematography that still maintains a gritty authenticity that lets you know this is not your typical glossed over fairytale. The Polish actress Alicja Bachleda (who looks like a Victoria's Secret model) is obviously well liked by the director (who can blame him) and so he effortlessly frames her, but without every once coming across as offensive or tacky. She's beautiful, but not at the cost of the films internal integrity.

The film has a very tender center, one that beautifully captures the rawness of human longing and the desire to put our pasts behind us.

Performance-wise, this film is very strong. I've always been a fan of Colin Farrell (so underrated as an actor) and I absolutely love what he's been doing with his career over the past few years. That Golden Globe win for `In Bruges' (how dare the Academy snub him!) was just the beginning, and `Ondine' marks yet another pure, grounded and unforgettable performance by the Irish stunner. He breathes such depth of despair into Syracuse's bones, giving him a rough yet endearing quality that makes us want to comfort him and alleviate his troubles. This is easily the best performance I've seen so far this year (granted, I have not seen a lot). Stephen Rea (who stunned in another Neil Jordan masterpiece, `The Crying Game') delivers a delightfully subtle supporting turn as the cheeky Priest who knows Syracuse all too well, and Alicja Bachleda sizzles with commanding strength as that mysterious sea-beauty. Alison Barry delivers a smart performance, once that capitalizes on youth in all the right ways and I think one that was necessary in carrying the audience off into her fantastical beliefs.

In the end, `Ondine' is a marvelous film that I highly recommend to all. There are few films that offer such refreshingly unique viewpoints and that flourish with originality within prose (my only balk is at the clichéd way in which the `obvious' villain is introduced, but it's a very minor complaint) that ignoring this film would be a travesty for any and every movie lover.
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on December 6, 2010
This could have been a very interesting and enjoyable story, except for a few nagging problems. On the plus side, the female lead, Alicja Bachleda, was spectacular...not a scrawny Angelina clone, but an earthy, buxom, beautiful young lady whom I recall from her previous movie, Trade. The swimming scenes in icy water could not have been any fun (for her), but for the male audience, they were riveting.

On the negative side (SPOILER ALERT):

1) How could she survive underwater for a substantial period of time before being captured in the net. To sink, your lungs must be full of water. In "real life" a stunt like this would result in brain damage if not death.

2) How did the drugs, long lost in the open ocean, end up in the tiny inlet where she swam, literally under foot?

3) If the characters were going to mutter their lines with a huge variation of dense accents (British, Irish, Eastern European, etc.), why, for the love of God, could there not be some English subtitles (at least not on the DVD I watched)? For me, about 60% of the dialog was completely incomprehensible.

4) There were way too many inexplicable coincidences, i.e. she sings....he catches tons of salmon and lobsters....why? The writer/director rejects any notion of magic or fantasy, so how do you explain these coincidences?

5) How did the girl swim away with the drugs under the scrutiny of helicopter and boatloads of law enforcement officers? Unless she could hold her breath for an hour or two, she could not have eluded them.

6) I am going to catch hell for this, but why did Colin Farrell have to look like a filthy, greasy-haired vagrant throughout the movie? Is it asking too much for him to clean up just a little for his own wedding? His grooming and hygiene were a discredit to fishermen the world over, not to mention his soggy, toxic-waste sweater. I have seen far better groomed men living in cardboard boxes under freeway ramps. His character had some good qualities, but ugh!!!

Before you hit the "unhelpful" button and discard this review as nonsense from a mean, deaf, nit-picking old man, please let me explain why these issues trouble me. The movie could have been a fantasy, with no explanations needed or expected, but instead the writer/director chose to give it a real-world basis in harsh reality, and that, I think, was a huge mistake. Trying to provide illogical, downright implausible explanations for fantastical events changes the viewing experience from one of simple emotional enjoyment to one that grates on the common sense of the viewer. You can't have it both ways. It would have been way better without the drug connection....just let her be exactly whom she appears to be, a magical spirit who has come to change the lives of a group of nice, troubled people.
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on May 10, 2010
I love Irish films and am a huge fan of Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda (fantastic in Sommersturm). Ondine is not groundbreaking but it is a nice story with some great cinematography, acting and wardrobes (I especially liked the various clothes that Alicja wore as they complemented her mysterious character). Ondine is not a fairy tale per se but rather a well done character drama that touches on irish mythology in a modern setting. Without giving too much away, I was expecting something along the lines of Secret of Roan Inish (which it's really not) but in the end I was pleased. I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good irish flick.
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on June 29, 2014
I wanted to like this film, we don't always get what we want. The cinematography was just so poor, under lit to the point I couldn't see who was talking or what was happening. Dark bars and night scenes can be shot so that you can still see the action but that requires skill and knowledge that was not evident here. Then there is the audio, it sounds as though the microphones were wrapped in wool. Muffled dialogue in the dark gets real annoying in a very short while, especially when the local accent and colloquialisms are already a challenge to understand. I was beginning to wish for subtitles. So much for the technicalities. The direction was just as poor. the pace of this film went from a fast walk to an agonizing limp then fell to the ground and crawled..slowly, painfully. I really don't care to see another scene in another film where our hero character announces "I'm an alcoholic" at an AA meeting then goes out and sucks down a fifth of booze straight from the bottle in between lines of anger and self pity! Can you say cliche! The comic relief was..oh that's right there was none. I hate to pick on child actors so I am glad to say there isn't one in this film. The young girl in this film sounded like she was reading and pretending. The woman playing Ondine, Alicja Bachleda, was sublime throughout. She was a living breathing complex creature on many levels. Colin was flat, a character without energy or dimension. I finally decided my evening would be more pleasantly spent trying to breath through a wet towel. Two stars, one for Alicja and one for what might have been.
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on July 5, 2011
I think it's sad that people tend to neglect the real stories in lieu of CG and special effects these days. It's a reflection of the superficial people that we are letting ourselves become and is making the plot-driven movie a rarity in modern film. This film lets your imagination soar and then brings you back to earth, but the magic isn't gone when you return. In my opinion, it's more fulfilling to watch a movie that your imagination can become a part of, instead of being overwhelmed by the "bling".
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on December 27, 2011
I very much enjoyed this atmospheric movie directed by Neil Jordan, set on the beautiful coast of Cork, Ireland. It mixes mythology and Irish folklore along with the basically simple plot of a fairytale come to life. At times I need an escape from all of the added effects in some movies which seem to pull me to and fro, and from a more simplistic story. You will not find this here. This tale ebbs and flows with its character driven tale. It does a fine job of allowing yourself to root for love, family and, well, fairytales.

A lonely fisherman, Syracuse (Colin Farrell), casts his net into the sea and pulls up quite a surprise. This would be a beautiful and ethereal, sopping wet woman (Alicja Bachleda) who calls herself, "Ondine", in quite an odd toned voice. The word itself carries along a mythological theme as it means, 'a water nymph or sprite, which is in the female form without a soul until she marries' (there are a couple other meanings that are basically the same with few additions). An 'on the wagon' Syracuse becomes immediately intrigued and beguiled with her and her ongoing story, although more so, does his precocious and opinionated small daughter, Annie (Alison Barry). She is convinced that she is not whom she claims to be and is set on finding out her story through her own personal journey.

Syracuse and Annie are extremely close, as his sweet daughter is ill with failing kidneys. She is only about 10 years old and so very young for something so horrible to be happening to her. The recognition of the lovely Ondine by Annie is a highpoint for Syracuse's daughter. She has her own magical beliefs of what she understands her to be, it is very interesting and born in Irish folklore as Annie explains the situation. The ways in which Annie investigates Ondine by including their Priest and her father can be quite humorous. The word exchanges within their discussions are something to really listen for, Annie is quite knowledgeable for 10 years old. She needs certain things to be true and rooting for her is quite easy to do.

It is like poetry in motion watching the magical story unfold. It is equally balanced, neither over inflates nor deflates. "Ondine" may not be for everyone, although for myself I could watch this little masterpiece over and over. The chemistry between the two leads is electric but at a much slower pace. It doesn't get so off kilter as to not believe that these are two actual people. Farrell adds a bit of colorful language although not too overboard. The addition of this only adds to his character and the layers of what he has been through in his hard life and what we may know of Ireland.

The country itself is well represented through its own wonderful scenery (Christopher Doyle) with the colorful land and seaward situations. Music (Kjartan Sveinsson) is just as lovely with its original score and the folklore is going to be a source of interest for me, as I would definitely love to learn more of this. Don't miss this underrated movie, particularly if you are interested in the things of the Emerald Isle and love a good story.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon April 23, 2012
This muffled Irish film is done in such a dim, murky way, I checked to see if I had left my sunglasses on by mistake. In my opinion, much of the humor got by me simply because I needed captions, so the DVD from helps. The plot doesn't actually take shape until the last third of the movie, then it is exciting and we come away understanding (most of) the story.

That being said, I'm happy to reiterate my admiration for Colin Farrell ("In Bruges" and "Crazy Heart") while at the same time wishing he could find a project in which he cuts his hair, takes a shower and has a shave. I'm so tired of assuming he doesn't smell very good...

Farrell's character is a divorced, (recovering) alcoholic fisherman with a daughter who suffers from kidney failure and requires dialysis on a regular basis. The daughter, played by Allison Barry in her first film, is a precocious little gal who whips around their tiny village in her motorized wheelchair. When she learns that her father pulled a woman out of the sea in his fishing net and resuscitated her, she heads for the library and looks up tales of the sea that might prove there is a little magic coming their way. She feels they are overdue.

The local priest, played by Stephen Rea ("The Heavy"), must be forgiven if he is a bit skeptical of that fishy story. He asks our fisherman where "Ondine" (for lack of a better name) sleeps, and I don't think he believes what he's told.

The production feels authentic (except for Farrell's delicate hands pulling on that tow line), and the acting feels genuine. The story offers a nice romance, some excitement, and we can't fault the father/daughter relationship.
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on September 18, 2015
Ondine is a charming and engaging romantic tale that exists in a fuzzy boundary between real-life and imagination.

There don't seem to be much in the way of special effects here. (If there was any digital post-processing done, it was done so well that I couldn't see it.) Very little raucous action. Not much in the way of hyper-dramatic Hollywood kitsch. No loonie hate propaganda. No childish foul language. No gratuitous nudity. It's just a happy story of love developing between a mysteriously magical woman and a fisherman in a setting that's commonplace to the few privilege to live in coastal fishing villages but quite exotic and fascinating to all the rest of us.

The pacing is perfect; it kept me in the story throughout the entire film. All production values top-notch. Music unobtrusive, though in a few spots it confused me enough to nudge me out of the story for a moment.

I don't understand the criticism about the lighting or color processing in the film The image looked great to me throughout the entire film. Perhaps it was just that the user's monitor needs to be adjusted or replaced. Or maybe... well... you know what Bilbo said to Frodo about his little chest of gold.

Bit of a spoiler: Ondine starts out with hints that it will turn out to be a charming fairy tale, but in the end, the film offers an almost-plausible explanation of how the events in the story came to be. I said "almost" plausible because the real-life story still leaves a lot of coincidences, leaving the door open for the advertising's catch phrase: "The truth... is what you believe."

I'm guessing that some of the folks who commenting on the film were disappointed that it didn't turn out to be a pure fairy tale, and were reacting to their expectations rather than to the quite accurate description in the movie blurb.

I have to strongly disagree with the critical review that complains about the science behind the real-life explanation; the reviewer is misinformed. The annals of medicine are filled with incidents where people have survived immersion for extended period of time in hypothermic conditions. Metabolism slows down to the minimum required for survival. In those cases, there was no brain damage unless there is an embolism while depressurizing a deeply submerged victim. While all but quite mesomorphic human bodies will float in water initially, a body weighted down with clothing or becoming water-logged will sink after a short while. Eventually, a dead body will resurface for a time as microbes release gasses that buoy it up (and eventually sink again, but this bit of grue isn't applicable here). In cases of real drowning, there is very little water in the victim's lungs; the trachea will automatically close up to prevent inhalation of water. The body can, however, exhale all the air in the lungs and become less buoyant.

On the other hand, we move back into the fairy tale when we have a naked (for all practical purposes here) human continuously exposed to the temperature of the sea around Ireland. Below 60 degrees F, one would not be comfortably paddling about under water in those conditions; the body would going hypothermic, unable to maintain its core body temperature; and the sea around Ireland rarely gets that warm.
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