João Pedro Rodrigues’ spirit-seeking yet prankish peramble “The Ornithologist” (O Ornitólogo) abandons the title figure in the wilds of unexplored northern Portugal while on a quest for endangered black storks. Rescued after a bout with river rapids, Fernando (Paul Hamy) is rescued by “good Christian” Chinese pilgrim girls (Chan Suan, Han Wen) as his actions hallucinate the legend of shipwrecked twelfth-century Portuguese Saint Anthony of Padua. Rodrigues’ modest but bristling movies, including “To Die Like a Man” and “The Last Time I Saw Macao” are jagged if fragrant accumulations of narrative and pictorial bric-a-brac, always holding on for dear life to some sort of journey narrative. Desire is always present in his movies; in this case, brute encounters with Jesus, a deaf-mute shepherd. “Homosexual sex mirroring the sacred, mirroring bliss: a humorous and necessary blasphemy in the image of this tragic and improbable existence that has stirred and inspired me. Let them love one another,” Rodrigues has written. Episodes are dour, elusive, and even sometimes comic. Cinematographer Rui Poças (Miguel Gomes’ “Tabu”) lights a way through dense foliage, figurative as well as very much literal. 117m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“The Ornithologist” opens Friday, June 30 at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.