There's nothing quite like a good fable. And on the outside, Ondine has all the aspects of such a thing: timeless, charming and innocent, it tells the tale of a fisherman eking out an existence in a coastal Irish village. Syracuse has been off the booze that destroyed his marriage for a few years now, but sobriety hasn't transformed his life like some catch-all cure. He remains a poor and lonely man, struggling against his demons, his daughter the only thing that keeps him on the straight and narrow track. But Annie is stricken with kidney disease, and her alcoholic mother, whom she lives with, has taken up with a dodgy Scottish bloke. Aren't they all?
Things take a turn when one day, while out on the boat trawling through the ocean for his daily fish, Syracuse finds - much to his surprise - a beautiful girl in his nets. When she comes to she introduces herself as Ondine, and insists that he not take her to the hospital. Grudgingly, Syracuse hides Ondine away in his late mother's ramshackle cottage, but Annie, inquisitive little creature that she is, soon discovers her father's secret: a selkie, she believes; a mythical seal-creature who has left her skin in the sea to spend seven years and seven tears on Syracuse.
I've been looking forward to Ondine since its first appearance on the festival circuit late last year, so I'm chuffed to bits to see so many of my hopes for it realised. The intrusion of reality on a narrative so purposefully set apart from the undiscerning brutality of the world rather takes the edge off any proclamations of unqualified greatness, but there is, at the end of the day, a great deal about this film to love: from its restrained tone to Alison Barry's stellar performance, from its unforgettable aesthetics to their superlative aural accompaniment. This is a fantastic fable, all told, momentarily misguided but otherwise breathtaking from end to end.