Ondine -- Film Review

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TORONTO -- When his upcoming Hollywood project, the thriller "Heart Shaped Box," became a casualty of the writers strike, filmmaker Neil Jordan retreated to his home in West Cork, Ireland, and wrote "Ondine."

A gentle, unassuming fable about a fisherman (Colin Farrell) who pulls up a fetching, mysterious woman in his catch, the film represents a back-to-basics return to form for Jordan, who in recent years has been looking to reconnect with the character-driven pieces ("The Good Thief," "The Crying Game") for which he is known.

But while the film marks Jordan's 25-year association with the Toronto International Film Festival, a deliberate pace that's more of a hymn than a shanty likely will limit its commercial future.

Farrell's in a world-weary, plaintive place as Syracuse, a reformed alcoholic, estranged from his still-partying wife and at a reluctant distance from his 10-year-old daughter, Annie (Alison Barry), who's confined to a wheelchair with kidney failure.

Life as he knows it takes a spiritual change for the better with the arrival of the beguiling Ondine (Alicja Bachleda), whom Annie is convinced is a real-life selkie, a sea creature of legend that's capable of assuming human form by shedding its seal skin.

Syracuse and his daughter are understandably in no hurry to find out if this fish out of water is the real deal, especially since her presence is having such a transforming effect on their lives.

Somewhat reminiscent in tone to the 1994 John Sayles film "The Secret of Roan Inish," "Ondine," with its ordinary-miracles theme, unfolds with the unhurried tempo of a gentle breeze.

There are times that light touch feels a bit insubstantial, but thanks to the nicely pitched performances -- including an amusing one by Jordan regular Stephen Rea as an irreverent priest -- and Christopher Doyle's typically atmospheric cinematography, this redemptive tale set against southwest Ireland's moody seascape holds its tangible charms.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Paramount Vantage)
Production: Wayfare Entertainment/Octagon Films
Cast: Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Stephen Rea, Alison Barry
Director-screenwriter: Neil Jordan
Executive producers: Michael Maher, Peter Rawlinson
Producers: Neil Jordan, James Flynn, Ben Browning
Director of photography: Christopher Doyle
Production designer: Anna Rackard
Music: Kjartan Sveinsson
Editor: Tony Lawson
Sales: Paramount Vantage
No rating, 111 minutes
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