This is a puzzling, interesting though ultimately unsatisfying film by Neil Jordan. "Misery is easy; happiness, you have to work at," says the priest who ministers to Farrell's Syracuse; that's the essential truth that ONDINE, a fable-like drama, attempts to uncork. What's unequivocal: Jordan's genius at crafting a mood, painted here with mindful pacing, a haunting Sigur Ros tune, and broody grays and maroons with the help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle. For most of the movie, the audience is in a haze: Is Ondine real, or is she, as Syracuse's precocious daughter, played formidably by Barry, calls "wish fulfillment"? (Farrell and Barry, by the way, demonstrate such a wonderful rapport, enlivening their father-daughter dynamic.)
It's when the film attempts to answer that question for real that Ondine loses its magic. (Isn't that often the case with fables?) All of a sudden, it's all too grounded in grit. While the juxtaposition makes for some interesting dramatic swerves, the earlier, less clarified storyline still intrigues. Like a siren call, it beckons. It's a pity the filmmakers ignored it for the sake of reality.