The Ornithologist 2016

O Ornitólogo

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues Fresh

This seductively meandering, playfully queer and richly cinematic riff on the St Anthony of Padua legend from Portugal’s João Pedro Rodrigues uses the classic man-in-a-forest motif in a strange journey of self-discovery.

Portugal In Latin, Mandarin and Portuguese with English subtitles
117 minutes CinemaScope / DCP
R13
violence, nudity & offensive language

Producers

João Figueiras
,
Diogo Varela Silva

Screenplay

João Pedro Rodrigues
,
João Rui Guerra da Mata

Photography

Rui Poças

Editor

Raphaël Lefèvre

Production designer

João Rui Guerra da Mata

Costume designer

Patrícia Dória

Music

Séverine Ballon

With

Paul Hamy (Fernando/António)
,
Xelo Cagiao (Jesus/Tomé)
,
Han Wen (Fei)
,
Chan Suan (Ling)
,
Flora Bulcao
,
Isabelle Puntel (hunters)

Festivals

Locarno
,
Toronto
,
Busan
,
New York 2016; Rotterdam
,
San Francisco
,
Sydney 2017

Elsewhere

In a stunning opening sequence our hero Fernando kayaks out into the spectacular Portuguese wilderness to watch birds – and they watch him back, until he is swept away by the rapids and left for dead on a riverbank. Sometime later he is found by a pair of Chinese Christian women who have lost their way trying to follow an ancient pilgrim trail. Just how far they have strayed becomes painfully apparent when Fernando awakens tied to a tree like Saint Sebastian.

From here the film executes ever more disorienting narrative turns into the horrific, the erotic and the absurd, conducting our protagonist on a pilgrimage of his own through a strange series of encounters with animals and humans (and, perhaps, creatures in between), all more or less hallucinatory, as Fernando tries to find his way back to his camp, or to civilisation, or to somewhere entirely new.

Director João Pedro Rodrigues (To Die Like a Man) presents his picaresque allegory of identity lost and found as an intimate epic of visionary excess that’s by turns goofy, sombre, poetic and awkward. This is risky, exciting filmmaking from a bold and original auteur. — Andrew Langridge