" I just asked myself: what would Lucy Ricardo do in this situation "
— Julia Roberts, The Trailer for My Best Friend’s Wedding

MRQE Top Critic

Timecrimes

A tight little movie where every setup is paid off —Marty Mapes (review...)

Vigalondo commits minor Timecrimes

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Neil Jordan returns to the screen with a movie that flirts with being kid-friendly without being cloyingly sweet.

The Mermaid and the Fisherman

Ondine plays like a fairy tale set in the real world. Colin Farrell is an Irish fisherman who hauls a mermaid in with his otherwise meager catch.

Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) is fully human — no gills or fins, except when she’s carefully framed with some finny-looking driftwood by ace Hong Kong cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

Syracuse (Farrell) can’t explain Ondine’s appearance, but he’s so busy taking his daughter Annie (Alison Barry) to dialysis, and trying to earn a living, that he doesn’t give it much thought. He lets Ondine warm up in his mother’s old shack as he would any drifter, and then leaves to go about his business.

Researching Selkies

While they wait out the dialysis he tells his daughter a fairy tale. “Once upon a time there was a fisherman....” Spinning it as a yarn, he tells her about catching the woman in his net.

Annie recognizes the story as that of a selkie, not a mermaid. Selkies are seals in their animal form, and they occasionally come out of the water to marry a landsman.

For Annie, the pieces begin to fall together. The more she reads about selkies, the more certain she is that Ondine is one. Ondine finds her seal-fur coat in the bay and buries it in a landsman’s garden, which means she must be getting ready to marry her father. Ondine’s timing is perfect — she arrives just when Syracuse and Annie need someone to help put their lives back together.

Telling a Tale

The gentle pastel palette of the movie is darkened briefly at the end by dramatic conflicts and omniscient expositions. Syracuse falls off the wagon when his ex-wife’s new boyfriend has a bad traffic accident. A dark-haired figure, probably Ondine’s seal-husband, lurks closer and closer, probably to take her back to the sea. There is even a chase scene and a gun or two (diminishing the movie’s kid-friendly appeal, depending on your parenting style).

But the darkness doesn’t last long, and there is a happily ever after, though not in the way you’d predict. Maybe the ending makes the beginning look a little contrived, but it feels like we’re in the hands of a good storyteller and not a script-generating computer program. Ondine is a refreshing film, by and for adults, yet it tells such a (mostly) gentle and charming story that you might mistake it for a kids’ movie.