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SFIFF 2017 - JOÃO PEDRO RODRIGUES: THE ORNITHOLOGIST/O ORNITÓLOGO (2016)

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PAUL HAMY AND XELO CAGIAO IN THE ORNITHOLOGIST

PREVIEW

Flying high

First of all The Ornithologist, though weird and unpredictable for sure, is more accessible than his previous features, less overtly and cloyingly gay - though it has its gay element (and ending): the protagonist unites with a hunky mute shepherd boy. They strip, bathe, have sex (not seen), then have a fight, in which the boy fares very badly, but he is later restored and they are seen hand in hand walking toward a pilgrimage spot on a busy modern street in the last shot. All of this film takes place outdoors, and its greatest pleasure is the flowing natural cinematography and the muscular, energetic action of Paul Hamy, the French lead (his lines voiced in Portuguese by the director, who replaces him briefly toward the end). Hamy, who was noticed as the quintessentially sexy and irresistible crook in Katell Quillévéré's tale of amour fou Suzanne, was heralded as the new French "bad guy." Here he is, ready to be tested and transformed into a sexy saint.

This is a visionary, far-out, sexily spiritual film. Best to know that it's (in Jay Weissberg's words in his Variety review) "a playfully queer riff on the St. Anthony of Padua legend." So the travails or adventures that happen to the protagonist are moving him toward spiritual enlightenment, sort of. He is called Fernando, but later, some bare breasted Latin-speaking Amazonian huntresses on horseback call him Antonio. Fernando initially is kayaking and bird-watching. Dp Rui Poças' flowing work includes back-and-forth between Fernando and black storks and other birds such that we get their point of view as well as Fernando's. Fernando's kayak gets caught in rapids, and he's washed up on shore semiconscious, rescued by two Chinese girls on their way to Compostela (but way lost). They save him, then tie him up and are going to castrate him next day, but he escapes. There's a martyrdom for you.

Fernando's encounter with wildly menacingly costumed tribesmen speaking the vanishing language of Mirandese makes this begin to seem not a nature adventure but a wild sequence of tales out of the 1001 Nights. The mute shepherd (Xelo Cagiao) turns out to be named Jesus, and then we can begin our religious interpretations for real. As Weissberg points out, St. Anthony's "reputation for dispelling demons, for preaching to fish, for holding the child Jesus, are re-imagined, while other Catholic stories are recalled, from Doubting Thomas to St. Anthony Abbot," and these provide intriguing points of reference, without really opening up clear meanings. Nonetheless of Rodriguez's films, this is the most fun, the most accessible, and maybe the craziest. But there is (some) method in its madness. It's also one of the best movies about birds you'll ever see. Here for the first time it's clear why the festival circuit has been celebrating João Pedro Rodriguez.

My previous reviews of Rodrigues films:
Two Drifters (2005)
To Die Like a Man (2009)
The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012)
His first feature was O Fantasma (2000).

Critics Roundup.

The Ornighologist/O Ornitólogo, 117 mins., debuted Locarno Aug. 2016; at least 14 other international festivals including Toronto, New York, Torino, Palm Springs, and Rotterdam. This is Rodrigues' fifth feature film. Screened for the San Francisco International Film Festival, schedule: : April 15, 2017 8:30 p.m. (BAMPFA); April 16, 2017 5:00 p.m. (SFMOMA).

It will be released by Strand starting June 23 (NYC) and June 30 (LA) 2017.

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