João Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist is the first work that I have seen from the acclaimed film maker and judging by the reviews of the film, probably the best introduction to the rest of his works. Known for his erotic and disturbing images, The Ornithologist, is filled to the brim with Christian symbology mixed with pagan rituals contained in a blasphemous and irreverent reinterpretation of the trials of St. Anthony of Padua. Although many reviewers claim that it isn’t necessary to be familiar with the story of the saint, it certainly provides a deeper appreciation and at the same time, adds to the ambiguity of the film.
Fernando (Paul Hamy) in an expedition to study the black storks ends up wandering in a surreal landscape of the Portuguese forest after his kayak capsizes. He is initially rescued by the two lost Chinese pilgrims who inexplicably re-creates the martyrdom of San Sebastian by stringing up Fernando to a tree. Thus begins Fernando’s journey and travails that parallels those of St. Anthony of Padua. Meeting a number of characters along the way from the deaf-mute goat-herd, Jesus to Amazon huntress in what appears to be his own pilgrimage towards enlightenment.
Morose and complex yet strangely hypnotic and engaging. There is a lot of things to ponder and dissect in this film. A lot of this has to do with Paul Hamy’s compelling performance whose most mundane daily rituals and more so of his perseverance in his journey keeps the audience rooting for him.