December 19, 2010 -- Updated May 10, 2015 -- Anyone who has seen the wonderful film “The Secret of Roan Inish” knows about the legend of the selkies, those magical creatures who appear to be seals, but when they shed their outer skins, they appear to be humans. This film, like “Roan Inish” is set in Ireland and it too, involves a story about fishermen, a little girl, and a lovely, magical selkie. While “Roan Inish” is grounded in fantasy, “Ondine” is grounded in reality, and it is also a romance. Others have described this film as a mermaid tale. It is a selkie story.
An Irish fisherman, Syracuse (played by Colin Ferrel of “Crazy Heart”) is pulling in his net one day at sea when he discovers a woman in amongst the fish. Naturally, he thinks she is dead, but amazingly, she is alive. He plans to take her to a hospital, but she insists she will not go. Further, she refuses to be seen by anyone else. Reluctantly, Syracuse agrees to take the mysterious, lovely woman to his mother's house in a secluded cove. No one has lived there since his mother died and no one should see the woman there. The exotic foreign woman (played by Alicja Bachleda of “Stealth”) calls herself Ondine, after a water nymph of German folklore.
Syracuse tells his daughter about Ondine indirectly, in a story which he makes out to be a fairy tale, starting it “once upon a time.” His daughter, Annie (Alison Barry) is not fooled for long. She figures out what is going on and follows her father to the hidden cove where she meets Ondine. Annie does research on selkies and believes Ondine to be one. Syracuse himself begins to believe there is something magic about this woman. When she sings aboard his boat, fish swarm into his nets, including salmon, which are not usually caught this way, and lobsters climb into his traps. She is very good luck to have on the boat when he is fishing.
Eventually, Ondine is seen by others. Her secret is out, so she goes openly into the town. It is a small town and everyone notices. Soon a stranger, Vladic (Emil Hostina of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) appears and begins making inquiries about Ondine. He has an evil look about him. Ondine's shady past is about to catch up with her, and it will put Syracuse and Annie in danger.
Also involved in this story is Syracuse's alcoholic ex-wife, Maura (Dervla Kirwan) who has custody of Annie, Maura's boyfriend, Alex (Tony Curran of “The Good German”) and a friendly priest (Stephen Rea of “V for Vendetta”) who tries to help Syracuse. The cinematography by Christopher Doyle of “Lady in the Water” conveys the beauty not only of Alicja Bachleda, but the lovely scenery in and around Castletownbere, Beara, County Cork, Ireland. It is worth noting that director Neil Jordon and Colin Ferrel, and a number of other actors in the film were born in Ireland. If you like Irish movies like “Roan Inish” and “The Quiet Man,” this is another to add to your collection. This film rates a B.
P.S. I finally saw this movie in a blu-ray format. None of the DVDs of this film I've seen have English subtitles, but the blu-ray does have them. The Irish accents are so thick in this film, I needed the subtitles to help me to see what words some of the characters are saying at times. It turns out that a few of the words I could not understand when I first saw the film are, in fact, untranslated Romanian.
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