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movies / May 31, 2010
By Eileen Jones

Ondine movie image Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda -- slice (1)

Feck, as the Irish say. Feckin’ independent film, it’s not worth shite.

I just watched Ondine, this Neil Jordon thing set in contemporary Ireland about a soulful fisherman played by Colin Farrell, who catches a young woman in his fishing net and wonders if she might be a water nymph or some damn thing. It’s a crusher, a masterpiece of patience-testing boredom. It’s one of those films that keeps almost ending, but just as your flattened spirits perk up a bit in anticipation, you realize there’s a whole other wearisome sequence to go through before the characters emote their way to the obvious finale. By the time the real ending arrives, you’ve lost your capacity to rejoice in freedom regained, and you plod out sighing, “Well, the cinematography was beautiful.”

Christopher Doyle’s cinematography is always beautiful. He’s the guy who came to fame shooting Wong Kar-wai’s films (Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love, Happy Together, etc.). He can shoot a concrete wall and make you think, “Wow, just look at the texture! I never knew grey was such a complex color!”

And some people really like that kind of thing. But I find a little of it goes a long way.

You might wonder why I’d be watching such moony, broody, character-study kind of junk on Memorial Day weekend, when the summer season of Hollywood genre film kicks off and there must be a couple of big hyperkinetic blockbusters out there. Ha! In their most recent campaign to utterly destroy the movie industry, the studios have released the following: Shrek 4; Sex and the City 2, by most accounts a stomach-turning train wreck getting some of the worst reviews of our generation; and The Prince of Persia starring Jake Gyllenhall, an earnest low-wattage actor who hit the gym and got hair extensions and vainly hoped to be mistaken for an action hero.

Naturally these are all doing anemic business, with Shrek 4 tottering to a weak first place over the other two, because parents have to do something to distract the hyperactive kids on holiday weekends.

What to make of Hollywood’s latest suicidal throes? Recently Ted Hope, the Focus Features guy who directs scowling dramas like In the Bedroom, wrote a thing called “Twelve Thoughts on the Value of Cinema”. Yes, it’s just as pompous as the title suggests, but at least he’s trying to help. Hope wrestles with the basic problem that the movie industry charges us ten dollars a pop to watch stuff that doesn’t seem worth ten dollars, and something must be done about it. So he post these twelve thoughts, which include:

1. IMHO the greatest value cinema has always brought is community aka social capital. This is not to say that this is beyond pleasure, but something that is unique to the form. Cinema is a tool to organize community. Movies help people to connect. Can this connection — and the odds thereof — be increased?

2. Another historic value of the movie going experience is intellectual capital. Yet we do very little to increase either of this value. Where’s the equivalent of Oprah’s Book Club for Movies that bring both social and intellect capital? Where are the study notes for every film? What is done to aid in the appreciation of the art? To place the work in a cultural context? Where we once had critics, we now find a synopsis and stars.

3. Intellectual capital is increased by exposure to a new world. Intellectual capital is increased by exposure to beauty. Intellectual capital is increased by exposure to emotional complexity and emotional truth. This exposure is a value unto itself….

You see how quickly Hope’s thoughts become part of the problem, by being very, very boring thoughts. By Thought 3 you know you’ll never make it all the way down to Thought 12. And we can’t afford any more boredom in the world of film. We’re full up.

Look, people, even if you’re an arty-indie filmmaker type, you have to acknowledge that what enables your “art” is the excitement people have always felt about commercial cinema. There wouldn’t be a film industry or an audience or an opportunity to make radical cinematic art that defies Hollywood conventions, if way back in 1895 people hadn’t been excited by movies, and hadn’t stayed excited for generations. You kill that excitement and it’s off to the museum for you. And you are killing it, you worthless industry execs, you indie film gits. I looked at the upcoming movie schedule for the summer and was stunned at the dreariness of the prospect. The A-Team with Liam Neeson is starting to look like a highlight, that’s how barren a wasteland it is.

On rare occasions now there will be a little jolt of anticipation to remind one of former glories. Recently I read a thing somewhere about how Quentin Tarantino wants to make a movie about John Brown, a personal hero of his. That’s John Brown the great crazy fanatic abolitionist who made a legendary mess of the raid on Harper’s Ferry in the vain hope of generating an uprising against Southern slaveholders, and got hanged for his trouble. He died so beautifully they wrote that song about him later known as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, but in its first incarnation, Union soldiers marched off to war singing “John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in his grave…”


The thrill of a possible John Brown epic by Tarantino was considerably quenched when Tarantino added that he wanted to play Brown himself, claiming there’s a strong physical resemblance between them. As if Tarantino resembled anything human!


Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, back to Ondine. Technically Ondine doesn’t even open till next weekend, not that it matters, since nobody will be battering down the theater doors to see it anyway. It’s gotten most of its advance press from the report that Colin Farrell knocked up his co-star, Polish newcomer Alicja Bachleda, who spends a lot of the movie in wet mesh mini-dresses and Victoria’s Secret-style underwear ensembles. So at least somebody got some fun out of it.

For the rest of us, though, it’s gloomy and moody and repetitious and annoyingly fey and everybody’s Acting like mad. Lots of long meaningful pauses, and gazing out over Irish seascapes, and saying cryptic things before rising suddenly and stalking away. The soundtrack has a lot of those songs featuring a monotonously strummed guitar accompanying a lone female voice mumbling and muttering about wrongs done to her.

Both leads have big manes of hair for epic hair-acting. Farrell outdoes his leading lady easily here. She sticks with either slick wet hair, due to her innumerable swims, or long tangled tresses, artful bed-head. These novices! Naturally an experienced star like Farrell has a lot more technique to draw on. He lets his hair hang in his face like closed curtains, or half-tucks it up under his adorable wool fisherman’s cap, or swings it back like a horse to punctuate a particularly emotional moment—it’s pretty impressive.


His character’s name is Syracuse, but he’s called “Circus” for short, as in clown. That’s because his reputation in the village is shot after years as a comical drunk, though he’s since become a sober citizen. (I know—a bad reputation in Ireland for hard drinking. This film isn’t even trying for verisimilitude.) Everyone calls him “Circus” like five million times, and he keeps correcting them, saying “Syracuse” in a pained voice, until you want to beat your head against a wall. Endless repetition of supposedly significant motifs is one of the main traits of arty-indie film, and Ondine is going for the record.

Syracuse has a little daughter Annie (Alison Barry) who’s ailing and has to go about pathetically in a wheelchair. (Jaysus!) She’s one of those old-soul kids you see in movies who say presciently wise, whimsical things. She’s a great believer in myths and fairy tales and immediately spots Ondine as a possible water nymph, or a mermaid, or maybe a selkie, a Celtic variation, a seal that can turn into a woman so she can get it on with a mortal man. Anyway, Annie stares thoughtfully at Ondine and says, “Curious.” And I thought, oh, boy, here we go, it’s an homage to Alice in Wonderland, when the talking White Rabbit and the magic Eat-me Cake and all that cause Alice to remark, “Curiouser and curiouser.” Then a scene or two later, Annie remarks, “Curiouser and curiouser.” Then in a while she says it again, presumably so we won’t miss the subtle intertextual reference, and Ondine says, “What?” and Annie explains that it’s a quote from Alice in Wonderland, and then Ondine starts saying “Curiouser and curiouser,” and pretty soon it’s a pointless catchphrase, and you want to beat your head against a wall some more.


The Ondine story is incredibly dicey material anyway; nobody should touch it who isn’t possessed of a rare vision that can overcome its diciness. It’s one of those myths that gets adapted into everything—a play, a ballet, an opera—presumably because the idea of a mortal man having sex with an immortal water nymph never loses its kick. The play version sounds a lot like Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, in that the guy heartlessly betrays the water nymph who loves him and is way out of his league, and things end badly. Audrey Hepburn played Ondine onstage before she became a film star, and one can only assume it helped a lot that she looked like Audrey Hepburn.


Alicja Bachleda hasn’t got that advantage. She’s a pretty girl, though from certain cruel angles she’s got a face like a shovel, and there’s nothing remotely otherworldly about her. So it’s always clear she’s some mini-skirted refugee from a sea-going catastrophe, probably involving crime, judging by the hard-bitten way she wears boots with her mini. When seemingly magical stuff starts happening—the hangdog fisherman Syracuse actually catches some fish, for example—it doesn’t matter, it’s so clearly got nothing to do with the ordinary pretty girl with the Polish accent. It’s merely annoying when Annie and Syracuse keep pushing the selkie/water nymph theory and Ondine buys into it too, till her inevitable mean-criminal boyfriend shows up.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Stephen Rea plays a wry, tolerant priest always having to hear Syracuse’s dull confessions. Not a wry priest, I hear you begging—please say there’s not a wry priest along with the soulful fisherman, the wheelchair-bound child, and the maybe-water-nymph! But it’s true, they’re all present and accounted for. And since the rest of the cast consists mainly of Townspeople more or less painted on the backdrop, that’s all you ever get, in varying combinations: fisherman, wheelchair kid, nymph, priest. It’s a relief when the mean boyfriend finally arrives, bringing the violence. Though he turns out to be a dud in that area. Nothing interesting comes of it.

Ondine movie image Colin Farrell (3)

To be fair, I guess I should mention that I’m not a huge fan of Neil Jordan, the writer-director, who also did The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, Interview with the Vampire, etc. He strains so hard for effect it’s exhausting to watch his stuff. And he’s done Colin Farrell no favors, drawing the misguided eejit into yet another slow-moving gloom-fest completely unsuited to his talent. I guess it’s too late to hope Farrell will ever get a clue; when his career’s over, In Bruges and one lively guest spot on the TV show Scrubs will be all the evidence left of a wasted comic gift.

Stupid gobshite! As the permanently enraged old priest in the great Irish TV show Father Ted sums it up, “Feck! Feck! Feck!”



Add your own

  • 1. Zhu Bajie  |  May 31st, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Valhalla Rising is pretty much the same, but with more disembowelling.

  • 2. BB  |  May 31st, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    feckin great reviews like this are what make us thankful for shitten-awful films (like this one apparently is)

  • 3. mattfoster  |  May 31st, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    While the film criticism from Eileen Jones always makes for a great read, I have to nitpick and say she seems rather clueless about ACTUAL independent film.

    By virtue of this hunk o’ junk starring a Hollywood actor and screening in theaters across the country, it has as much in common with anything independent as the 142 oz. soft drink at the concession stand.

    I know that the term “indie” became a buzzword in the 90’s and a full-on fucking plague in the 00’s; a word used to describe any form of entertainment made for people who think that they think different from other people who think like everybody else, but shit man, real-y deal-y independent art films STILL exist.

    You gotta find them. It ain’t easy. Especially finding the goods ones. Some times they ain’t even in English. But shit man, there’s films and filmmakers out there that make it worth the effort.

    Classifying this feckin’ bullshit as “independent film” is like comparing feckin’ Scarlet Johanson’s attempt at a music career to a record by The Fall.

  • 4. platitudes  |  June 1st, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Half Nelson was the last movie I saw in theaters…over three years ago.

    I don’t even bother with reviews anymore, watching Glenn Beck stoned is all the entertainment I need.

  • 5. BlottoBonVismarck  |  June 1st, 2010 at 9:40 am

    SHITE 2

    Excellent review. Perfect mastery of Irish expletives, demonstrating informed instruction or talented solo-study?

    They did that already department.

    Excuse me, but that wasn’t shite. That was Shite 2 to you, Jones. (Any relation to “Is that a skirt, Jones, “or a handkerchief pretending to be a skirt?.” No? Pity. But we digress).

    > a soulful fisherman played by Colin Farrell, who catches a young woman in his fishing net.

    The first version of this was so mind-numbingly boring that they made a remake? Of course they did. – The Secret of Roan Inish – 1994 –

    Full film on youtube (serious masochists only). –


    Who knew that a ‘kitchen sink’ of a film was a technical term of film criticism? Meaning that it is full of crap, ER, full of mixed up random elements that specifically fail to make a coherent whole.

    For example take 1995’s ‘The Run of the Country.’ … Take it far, far away. Please.

    A bit of murderous Troubles gunmen from Neil Jordan’s Angel stirred not shaken with far too much crotchety oul-fella policeman father’s potato patch. Played with serious conviction and not much believability by Englishman Albert Finney. (Gratuitous dig at the Brit(s) ). Combined with country first love – aka some skin — of a new ‘Helen Mirren in the buff, from Cal’ — Protestant naturally, because good Catholic girls don’t do what she does, particularly not on film, in front of an entire film crew.

    Combine with a dash of tarring-and-feathering, a bit of random IRA bombing, a mysterious rough diamond local with the worlds’s most annoying catch phrase, “Say nothing ’til you know more.” Who gets blown to smithereens, followed by a ‘RA vigil over the coffin and a volley over the grave by ‘RA volunteers.

    Naturally the best bit was the _extremely_ extended, nearly completely gratuitous buff bit, ably performed by a young and decidedly nubile Victoria Smurfit. Victoria Smurfit – scion of the Irish gazillionaire House of Smurfit. What are the charms of a scion of the House of Smurfit? Watch ‘The Run of the Country’ and _all_ your questions will be answered. And we do mean all. You will know decidedly more about Ms. Smurfit’s charms than her husband on her wedding night. Or any other night.

    How does it end? Well lets just say that like the ‘Scottish play”s ‘eye of newt and toe of frog’ recipe, the results are … generally bad news all round.

    ER, Spoiler alert. Oops. Too late. Sorry.

    But don’t worry. You didn’t want to see it. It really was shite. Take our word for it. Or imdb’s woeful rating, which grossly exaggerates its worth. –

    Rotten Tomatoes is much more to the point. –

    ‘The Run of the Country’ trailer. – 1995 –


    You mention the good films of Neil Jordan – The Crying Game and Mona Lisa for two. But Michael Collins was perhaps his greatest film and the film that will be remembered in a century. Michael Collins was the first film to show living Irish people their own defining myth – the insanely brave 1916 occupation of the GPO in Dublin. A deliberate suicide on the scale of the Jonestown Massacre, with a cast of thousands. The British obliged, created the needed martyrs, and the rest is history.

    Why the British executed only the sixteen ringleaders and spared the rest remains a mystery. Something to do with not wanting to alienate too much much Empire cannon fodder for Flanders fields — World War 1 –, rather than common sense or decency, perhaps? No change there, then. As The Exiled’s own Paddy O’Fenian said “1916 inside the GPO – Suicide has never looked so cool” ; ) –

    GPO – 1916 – Michael Collins –

    You think _that_ was bad department? God help us, but Neil Jordan also made ‘Breakfast on Pluto.’ It wasn’t just wogeous – it was six kinds of _utter_Shite_. ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ – 2005 –

    However, Neil Jordan remains the most successful filmmaker Ireland has yet produced. Certainly ‘excellent’ compared to “what have I done lately?” and perhaps even you, Jones.


    Why Irishmen are so in demand as the perfect partner. Not. – Because they can all channel an inner Father Ted at the drop of a hat. – ‘Feck. Drink. Arse. Girls!’ – Father Ted –

  • 6. Lavrentij Lemko  |  June 1st, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Gimme Norman Mailer’s “Maidstone” and misogy-coms like “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” any day of the week rather than this bathetic drivel.

  • 7. John  |  June 1st, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    @3: nobody gives a flying fuck what “real” indie film is. it’s all garbage. that’s the point

    great review eileen…

  • 8. Idaho66  |  June 1st, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    I want to know something… and it has nothing to do with the fecking film… why is “Condoms ‘too big’ for Indian men” still the most popular (most shared) story on BBC now… and since 2006 apparently. Is this a DOS – denial of service 😉 attack on India?

    Michael Collins was probably a bit impenetrable for non-irish audiences. It would take a bit more than 2 hours to explain the complexities and develop the characters. It’s a bit more complex than, say “House of Spirits” and would need at least an extra hour to do it justice.

  • 9. mmmm  |  June 1st, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Secret of Roan Inish was a competent, albeit very dry interpretation of the whole selkie-mates-with-man thing. It’s pretty much a film for overachieving 10-year-old girls, and they find it somehow engrossing. John Sayles tends to hit more than he misses, when you get right down to it. (c’mon: Brother from Another Planet! Men with Guns! These are ‘indie’ films you can really sink you teeth into.)

    But ‘Michael Collins’ was, despite some awesome action sequences, a pretty terrible movie. If it actually represents a “defining myth” for the Irish people, then they deserve much better. I seriously doubt any movie with Julia Roberts in it will be remembered in a century– and you can’t argue that she was the “one bad thing” about the film, because she shits all over it.

  • 10. Allen  |  June 1st, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Not sure Niel Jordan qualifies as “indie”, however that might be defined. Honestly though, I don’t need my films to be independent from major studios — I just need them to be worth my time. And I don’t think any of Jordan’s films (that I’ve seen) qualified, except maybe Michael Collins. (Just maybe).

    A University professor of mine made me read Jordan’s Shade for this Irish lit class I was in, which was something of a waste.

    He died so beautifully they wrote that song about him later known as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, but in its first incarnation, Union soldiers marched off to war singing “John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in his grave…”

    The above quote is … interesting.

  • 11. Will  |  June 2nd, 2010 at 1:27 am

    “She’s a pretty girl, though from certain cruel angles she’s got a face like a shovel,”

    This perfectly captures my sentiments about Olivia Wilde.

  • 12. Nestor  |  June 6th, 2010 at 3:47 am

    Honestly I do see a slight resemblance between Tarantino and Brown, and the man was nuts so he might be able to play him well (A nuanced actor he is not, but mad he can do)

  • 13. GARY  |  June 6th, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    jaysis….eileen you are funny but you forgot “sure and beghora”

  • 14. Fischbyne  |  June 10th, 2010 at 11:13 am

    “It’s one of those films that keeps almost ending, but just as your flattened spirits perk up a bit in anticipation, you realize there’s a whole other wearisome sequence.” Nice. Recognizable. Simple. Elegant. A conventional reviewer might have said something incomprehensible about “pacing” to make the same point.

    (One quibble over diction: “quenched” should be “squelched” or another word to convey your meaning of diminished hope.)

  • 15. RecoverylessRecovery  |  June 10th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    ———- MOVIE REVIEWS ———-

    Today’s Feature: ONDINE

    Variety calls it “A film of unusual narrative currents and pungent tonal effects”. I concur, as long as by ‘unsual narrative’ & ‘pungent’ they meant to say ‘weird’ and ‘it stinks’ respectively.

    Yes sir, this Neil Jordon creation set in contemporary Ireland about a very very Irish-accented fisherman played by Colin Farrell, who catches a young woman in his fishing net and wonders if she’s a water nymph or if he should simply just lay off the ol’ Bushmill’s a wee bit for awhile, is a must NO-see for anyone who is NOT of Irish descent …or stone cold DRUNK. Yeah I know; same difference.

    But I digress. The over-extended narrative results boring and fails to engage the viewer in any meaningful way whatsoever. You know those movies that suck so bad you just can’t WAIT until it ends just so you can pop that sucker out of the DVD player and smash it with a hammer? Well THIS is THAT movie.

    Feck it.

  • 16. Phil  |  June 12th, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Father Ted isn’t an Irish show. It had Irish writers and Irish actors (some of whom were sub-par – in fact the late Dermot Morgan’s/Ted’s son taught me German in school… namedrop!!!). Anyway the show was produced in Britain by Channel 4 and it shows all the marks of it. Irish TV is far worse. Here’s some real Irish television “comedy”:

    I always thought Father Ted was a bit hokey in a wierd self-depracating sort of way. Many of the jokes – like many of the lead writer’s jokes – are utter shit; real cringers. Of course it borders on sacrilege to say that Father Ted might actually be a bit crap and that it’s only considered funny because of it’s theme. It’s a bit like when everyone has finished watching something like “Precious” and one person is heard saying – a little too loud – “Uh, I don’t think people would have liked that if it hadn’t been about people from ‘da ghetto'”.

    Anyway, back on point. As someone said above Jones should stop bashing what she refers to, in a manner reminiscent of an MTV reviewer, as “indie film” by giving examples like Neil Jordan (although “Mona Lisa” was good).

  • 17. Nestor  |  June 12th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Fischbyne, quenched works just fine in that context

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