Neil Jordan is a master in eclecticism, but not subtlety, and he proves it once again with Ondine: a revisionist fairy tale that opens on a fisherman, Syracuse (Colin Farrell), who catches a coy woman (Alicja Bachleda) in his net. The enigmatic and perpetually half-clothed woman&emdash;categorized by Syracuse's excruciatingly precocious wheelchair-bound daughter as a mythic "Selkie"—initially refuses to speak with anyone other than Syracuse. She relies completely on him, and she makes his life, and eventually the lives of the people around him, a little bit more confounding and fascinating. Well, that's what she's apparently supposed to do, at least with her "mysterious" and "magical" wiles.
More precious than charming, Ondine's purported loveliness is uglified by flat character arcs, groan-worthy realizations, and a distinct lack of a raison d'etre. This fractured fable is watchable only due to cinematographer extraordinaire Christopher Doyle's expectedly fluid visuals and Colin Farrell's low-key, humane performance.
For all its flaws, however, aesthetes who bow to Jordan-as-auteur will delight in this exercise in atonality, deception and style, particularly the compassionate way he captures a rainy Irish seaside village. Jordan is a director who knows better than to buy into the misogynistic myth of sea undines, but not cunning enough to salvage his own risible screenplay. A preposterous denouement meant to dazzle and disorient simply confirms how very far out to sea the central conceit has drifted.
Opens June 4