FOUR STARS An ornithologist in remote Portugal and is tortured by pilgrims and has sex with Jesus.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here hoping to make much sense of this film. With that in mind, be prepared for one of the more religiously imbued, playfully erotic and weirdly wonderful experiences you’ll have in a cinema since early Cronenberg. But where the Canadian auteur had a taste for shock and awe, Portuguese auteur João Pedro Rodrigues has a taste for the tongue-in-cheekily ridiculous.
Bird-watching Fernando has a kayaking accident in remote Portugal. He’s found, nearly dead, by lost Chinese pilgrims who’ve wandered far from El Camino. Convinced he’s an evil spirit, they bind and torture him yet he escapes, forced to wander the wilderness. As he tries to get home, he encounters forest people resembling piñatas, a deaf-mute goat-herd called Jesus (they have sex), and half-naked women on horseback. At some point, he turns in St Anthony while Jesus is reborn as Thomas.
Catholic symbolism abounds as Rodrigues reimagines the story of Portugal’s patron saint although it’s hard to imagine the Holy See would countenance the bondage, gay sex and piñata-men as having much place in Anthony’s religious tale. Which is where Rodrigues’ playful spirit comes in as he has a lend of both the source material and his audience, entering the realm of the faintly ridiculous. One shouldn’t take THE ORNITHOLOGIST too seriously (he doesn’t), as it dives head first into pure art-house, drawing from loveable crazies like Lynch and Herzog before him.
A theological background would help decipher the story, and patience will be rewarded – Rodrigues takes his sweet time getting to the point. But if you like bondage with your bird-watching, this is the film for you.