You really need to brush up your knowledge of the Portuguese Saint Anthony of Padua to appreciate writer/director João Pedro Rodrigues’s very queer take on the legend of his life. It is both surreal and provocative and demands a great deal of of patience from its audience when it strays off on confusing tangents.
Fernando (Paul Hamy) like St Anthony is an ornithologist, and is a on field trip in a remote nature reserve in Northern Portugal studying black storks. He has a near fatal accident when his kayak overturns and is rescued by two rather odd Chinese Catholic pilgrims, Fei (Han Wen) and Lin (Chan Suan), who have got lost on their way to Santiago de Compostela. (St Anthony is the Patron Saint of both people and lost things).
They drug Fernando with some tea concoction and when he passes out, they strip him down to his (very) tighty whites and tie him up with some very elaborate rope bondage. When he awakes and is obviously very aroused, he manages to break free and escape only to end up almost being captured by some freakish semi-demonic creatures in the middle of one of their satanic type rituals.
His next encounter is with a deaf/dumb shepherd named Jesus (Xelo Cagiao) who seduces him and in a very explicit scene the two naked men make love on the beach. However this is followed by an argument which ends badly when Fernando accidentally fatally stabs him.
All these incidents, and the other bizarre ones that follow are all the vivid imaginings of Rodrigues ‘interpretation’ of the Saint’s legend and get increasingly extreme and impossible to comprehend if you are unfamiliar with Anthony’s story. Even so it is clear that none of the rather extreme drama should be taken at face value and that there is obvious a whole level of hidden meaning in all this symbolism of this allegory, but it is just that it is nigh on impossible at times to establish what that possibly can be.
The Ornithologist is Rodrigues least accessible movie but that hasn’t stopped it collecting a whole cluster of Awards since it’s premiere. It’s obvious that the film is an ‘acquired taste’ that has more than a few fans, but it will be interesting to see how well it is received when it eventually plays beyond the safety net of Film Festivals