“I kind of wish that something strange or wonderful would happen,” eleven year-old Annie (newcomer Alison Barry) sighs to her fisherman father Syracuse (Colin Farrell) as she prepares for dialysis treatment towards the beginning of Neil Jordan’s Ondine. Like many of Jordan’s protagonists, Annie and Syracuse are outsiders. Precocious, largely wheelchair-bound Annie suffers from kidney failure and endures callous taunts from her unsympathetic classmates; Syracuse, a recovering alcoholic, remains an object of ridicule in the Irish town where he’s commonly known as Circus, a nickname he earned years earlier for his drunken behavior. Both the film and its kindhearted central characters are firmly rooted in a sense of place: set and shot in Jordan’s home of Castletownbere, the film subtly evokes the diffuse mechanisms of social judgment and exclusion that can too often typify small, hermetic communities. For Annie and Syracuse, neither escape nor belonging is really possible. They aren’t completely impotent—after all, Syracuse sobered up and left Annie’s mother through sheer force of will when he discovered his daughter’s illness—but their social circumstances are not entirely of their own making.
But deliverance has perhaps already arrived in the form of the titular Ondine (Alicja Bachleda), a mysterious woman Syracuse pulls from his net while fishing in the film’s opening scene. Read Chris Wisniewski’s review of Ondine.