News from the Locarno Festival

O Ornitólogo

Concorso internazionale

O Ornitólogo



In Trás-os-Montes, a majestic part of northeastern Portugal, solitary ornithologist Fernando (the body of Paul Hamy, the voice of director João Pedro Rodrigues) kayaks along a river peering through his binoculars in search of rare birds, especially the endangered black stork. Distracted, he is caught in the rapids and ends up being saved by two female Chinese pilgrims, lost on their way to Santiago de Compostela. This is not good. Eventually extricating himself from the women, Fernando forges his own path, and the further he ventures into the forest, the more O Ornitólogo morphs into an exploration of the realm of fantasy – as fantastic as the idea of religion itself – as Fernando undergoes a series of extreme masochistic trials in this mythopoetic wilderness on the road to spiritual enlightenment.

This Birdman is more saint than superhero, and his journey comes to echo that of Anthony of Padua, Portugal’s most beloved saint whose popular devotion Rodrigues explored in his 2012 short Manhã de Santo António (The Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day). Indeed, the director litters his film, shot by Rui Poças in glorious CinemaScope, with religious iconography and artistic references. But Rodrigues’ blasphemous exploration of the transformative process of religious awakening, through a serious of wild – at times sexual – adventures focusing on the pleasure and the pain of the body is a modern film, in line with Godard’s Je vous salue, Marie (Hail Mary) or Buñuel’s La Voie lactée (The Milky Way). A trained ornithologist himself, Rodrigues has made what is likely his most personal film since O Fantasma, and the fascinating O Ornitólogo launches his filmography into new and adventurous territory.


Mark Peranson

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