Obsession By The Sea

Say a prayer for 'The Miracle.' This unhyped Irish gem--seductive, funny, filled with filmmaking artistry and passion--has to compete against the bully boys of summer, and it may take a small miracle for it to be heard above the din. Writer/director Neil ("Mona Lisa") Jordan's movie may be small, but it's a spellbinder.

Over a haunting Wynton Marsalis version of "Star Dust," the movie opens with a spectral image of a blonde in sunglasses. Shortly thereafter, we see the woman getting off a train in the seacoast town of Bray. She's spotted by two Irish teenagers, Jimmy (Niall Byrne) and Rose (Lorraine Pilkington), best friends who while away the summer concocting fictions about the people they see in the town. Jimmy, transfixed by this mystery woman, makes up a lurid fantasy: she's French, she's killed someone and she's on the lam. In reality she's an American actress, Renee (Beverly D'Angelo), starring in a second-rate Dublin production of "Destry Rides Again."

What begins as child's play turns into obsession. The motherless Jimmy, a budding jazz musician who lives with his heavy-drinking musician father (Donal McCann), is erotically fixated on this older woman. Rose, jealous, embarks on a retaliatory seduction of a cute but loutish circus animal trainer.

Jordan's characters have secrets up their sleeves, and it doesn't take long to guess them. But it's the magical texture, not the plot, that matters. Jordan's buoyant lyricism leaves you slightly giddy. Shot through with startling dream sequences, punctuated by surreal circus imagery, propelled by composer Anne Dudley's sublimely moody score, "The Miracle" creates a world charged with youthful romanticism yet tempered by the comic tranquillity of recollection. These teenagers are a smart, resilient pair: they'll survive the traumas of adolescence by turning inchoate passions into shapely stories, just as Jordan does in his enchanted movie.