The Or­nithol­o­gist

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - The Or­nithol­o­gist Va­ri­ety

Fer­nando (Paul Hamy) is on a solo re­search trip along a re­mote river canyon in Por­tu­gal. He pad­dles through the canyon in a slen­der kayak, ob­serv­ing birds and tak­ing notes. Through his binoc­u­lars, he stud­ies black storks, grif­fon vul­tures, and golden ea­gles. At the same time, the birds watch him. We see him through their eyes — in a bird’s-eye view, he is lit­tle more than a speck in the river, a flash of color sur­rounded by murky waters. Fo­cus­ing on the wildlife, Fer­nando loses track of his sur­round­ings and drifts into a stretch of rapids. His kayak cap­sizes, and he loses con­scious­ness.

Hav­ing wan­dered off course from the pil­grim’s path to San­ti­ago de Com­postela, Chi­nese Chris­tians Fei (Han Wen) and Ling (Chan Suan) come across Fer­nando’s body and man­age to re­vive him. Grate­ful for their as­sis­tance, he agrees to help them find their way back to civ­i­liza­tion. The women fear that the wilder­ness is cursed, and as the trio pre­pares for sleep, strange yelp­ing sounds re­sound from the for­est.

Fer­nando wakes up stripped to his un­der­wear and art­fully bound with rope — the strands lace around his neck, across his torso, and down his legs, and there is even a sec­tion se­cur­ing his gen­i­talia. He es­capes, but things are only be­gin­ning to go askew. Early on, he at­tempts to field a call from his boyfriend, Ser­gio, but the rugged ter­rain has put him out of cell­phone range. As the movie pro­ceeds and he delves deeper into the wilder­ness, he seems to be los­ing touch with him­self, as well.

Di­rec­tor João Pe­dro Ro­drigues, who stud­ied avian bi­ol­ogy be­fore tak­ing up moviemak­ing, told that he con­ceived the film as a “hap­pily blas­phe­mous” telling of the life of St. An­thony of Padua, who was born in Lis­bon and is con­sid­ered a pa­tron saint of Por­tu­gal’s cap­i­tal city. In­deed, an open­ing ti­tle card fea­tures a quote at­trib­uted to An­thony and dated 1222, and re­li­gious im­agery abounds as the movie un­folds. Among the likely blas­phe­mous el­e­ments is a se­quence of Fer­nando in the buff, rolling in the sand of a river­bank with an equally naked shep­herd boy. While

may be an un­usual story of faith, it does con­vey a sense of re­li­gious mys­tery.

The plot seems sec­ondary to the film’s med­i­ta­tive vi­su­als, in­clud­ing Ter­rence Mal­ick-like footage of trees sway­ing in the wind. File this one along­side the work of Car­los Rey­gadas ( Japón, Silent Light) and Apichat­pong Weerasethakul (Bliss­fully Yours, Trop­i­cal Malady). The Or­nithol­o­gist, like those movies, is for en­thu­si­asts of pure cinema with­out bound­aries.

— Jeff Acker

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