(director/writer: Neil Jordan; cinematographer: Christopher Doyle; editor: Tony Lawson; music: Kjartan Sveinsson; cast: Colin Farrell (Syracuse), Alicja Bachleda (Ondine), Alison Barry (Annie), Derva Kirwan (Maura), Stephen Rea (Priest), Tony Curran (Alex), Emil Hostina (Vladic); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Neil Jordan/James Flynn/Ben Browning; Magnolia Pictures; 2009-Ireland/USA)

Hard to swallow fish tale.

Reviewed by Dennis SchwartzIrish filmmakerNeil Jordan (“The Company of Wolves”/”The Butcher Boy”/”The Crying Game”) directs this misguided personal Irish fantasy indie. The hard to swallow fish tale blends fairy-tale elements with earthbound melodramatic elements and in its third-act tosses out more blarney, as it clumsily turns into an earthbound mystery tale. The ambitious small fantasy film never can satisfactorily mix magic with reality, as the mood shift is too radical to be seamlessly incorporated into the pic.

Syracuse (Colin Farrell), a recovering alcoholic who left his wife, who found a new drinking partner, is a moody trawler fisherman on the Irish coast. Before anyone can say “holy mackerel,” the lad with the mythological handle finds in his net a beautiful woman who appears dead but when brought aboard his boat springs to life and tells her rescuer she doesn’t want anyone else to see her. The startled fisherman learns her name is Ondine (Alicja Bachleda), which means lady from the water. Syracuse takes her to the isolated cottage of his late mother to recover. When he takes her fishing, she sings in a strange language to the fishes and his luck suddenly changes for the better as he hauls in great catches.

When Syracuse is with his irrepressible daughter Annie (Alison Barry), who lives with mum and gets around in a motorized wheelchair while awaiting a kidney transplant, he tells the curious girl, he dearly loves, the story of a man who hauled in a selkie (a mermaid-like creature according to Irish and Scottish mythology) from the ocean. Annie believes the fairy-tale story is true when she meets Ondine, and believes that according to lore if the selkie loses her seal skin she will find love with a human until her selkie hubby returns to take her back to the sea. It leads to the fantasy breaking climax, when the harshness of reality seemingly mirrors mythology, as a sinister man comes calling for Ondine and brings the pic back down to an earthbound level.

The film’s fun spot has Stephen Rea, a Jordan regular, break-up the dull spots with a few appearances as an easy-going irreverent priest hearing the comical confessions of the lapsed Catholic Syracuse, that would ordinarily be told at AA meetings.

The photography by Christopher Doyle is stunning, but the heavy Irish accents make the dialogue a chore to comprehend for those not from Ireland and those not used to the brogue.