João Pedro RodriguesPortugal / France / Brazil118 minutes2016ColourPortuguese English Mandarin Mirandese Latin
Stranded along a sublime river fjord in northern Portugal, a hunky ornithologist is subjected to a series of brutal and erotic Stations-of-the-Cross-style tests, in the daring new film from provocative Portuguese auteur João Pedro Rodrigues.
With his daring new film, provocative Portuguese auteur (and former ornithologist) João Pedro Rodrigues creates one of his most visually arresting films to date, and perhaps his most personal. Set along a sublime river fjord in northern Portugal, The Ornithologist adapts the story of Saint Anthony of Padua — also known as Saint Anthony of Lisbon, a Portuguese Catholic priest and canonized Franciscan friar who is the patron saint of finding lost people and things — as it enacts the fraught pilgrimage of Fernando (played with physical intensity by French actor Paul Hamy), a hunky ornithologist whose search for the rare and threatened black stork leads to an eventful and suspenseful journey of encounter, danger, and lust, on the path toward total enlightenment.
After his concentrated bird surveying causes his boat to capsize, the unconscious Fernando is washed ashore and rescued by two young, seemingly innocent female Chinese pilgrims, who are lost on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Thereafter, the film bends genres and busts taboos as Fernando is forced into extreme action in order to survive a series of brutal, Stations-of-the-Cross-style tests, his metamorphosis observed all the while by the eerily placid gaze of the birds above.
Evoking the art-historical iconography of Saint Sebastian (courtesy Fra Angelico, Bellini, Mantegna et al.), Rodrigues also adopts (and radically transforms) tropes and patterns from the western to create his mythic land of fantasy.
A film in which several pilgrimages — religious, cinematic, and erotic — intersect and overlap, The Ornithologist boldly continues the uncompromising path of a filmmaker who consistently pushes the boundaries of the socially acceptable in his quest for artistic freedom.