The Ornithologist Screen 93 of 21 reviews

The Ornithologist


The Ornithologist Poster
  • It's Rodrigues’ most thoroughly realized movie yet because he has the thematic and cinematic space to work out his ideas, and most importantly, he completely embraces the wonders and possibilities of storytelling, storytelling of the oldest kind, storytelling before plot points and third acts.

  • This spellbinding new work from Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues offers a cheerfully blasphemous take on the life of St. Anthony of Padua, recast here as a handsome bird watcher whose latest wilderness excursion takes several frightening, erotic and hilariously surreal turns.

  • The full-bore intensity of this last passage is not to be underestimated, nor is the fact Rodrigues concludes his tale of wonderment concludes with a track by António Variações—the Portuguese glam rock icon who died of AIDS in 1984. For bringing these seemingly impossible contradictions together with no small amount of corporeal levity, The Ornithologist is easily his most Catholic (which is to say, Portuguese) film.

  • One of my favorite movies in the festival. The strand in which it has been dumped — not to beat a dead horse, but what is the point if the category itself does not distinguish itself from the others? — gets less exposure than the dominant Main Slate. I’m doing my itsy bitsy part to redress the imbalance.

  • ++

    Sight & Sound: Tom Charity
    October 07, 2016 | Toronto | November 2016 Issue (pp. 16)

    An extraordinarily rich, unpredictable fever-dream, a pilgrimage film that sits somewhere alongside Buñuel's The Milky Way (1969), Jarman's Sebastiane (1976) and Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale (1944) with its fusion of religious iconography and sexual and spiritual anguish, coupled with a palpable reverence for the mysterious cross-currents of the natural world – look out for it at the BFI London Film Festival.

  • Utterly adventurous, João Pedro Rodrigues’s dizzying and highly personal The Ornithologist is loosely based on the life of St. Anthony of Padua and unfolds in the remote northeast wilderness of the director’s native Portugal.

  • Set along a river fjord in northern Portugal, Rodrigues’s audacious film plays like a contemporary picaresque in which the hunky titular bird-observer endures a series of erotic and violent encounters, first and most hilariously by a pair of Christian Chinese pilgrims, before transforming into a modern-day Saint Anthony. It’s a wild ride, close in spirit to his provocative debut O Fantasma (2000).

  • At once a subversively gay take on a religious icon and a cheerfully blasphemous chronicle of death and resurrection, “The Ornithologist” offered as pleasurable and fully sustained an immersion in pure cinema as any film in the festival.

  • The single most delightful and narratively adventurous movie I saw at Toronto... I’m still trying to figure out who the three bare-breasted huntresses are; they turn up on horseback with a heraldic blast of a horn, dogs barking and hooves pounding. That isn’t a complaint, but an acknowledgment of the story’s glories and mysteries, which makes “The Ornithologist” a good metaphor for both moviegoing and the festival experience at its best.

  • Traversing far from conventional narrative, Rodrigues’s insights into storytelling, its affinity for apotheosis, and links between the supernatural and mundane worlds, are by intriguing turns both droll and brilliant.

  • Festivals offer the chance to go out on a limb with wilder, more left field choices than you’d find playing long runs in your local multiplex. For beautiful lunacy you can’t beat The Ornithologist, a novel take on the myth of St. Anthony which blew minds at its recent premiere at Locarno as a hallucinatory, poetic but playfully batshit-crazy experience and a half.

  • The film maps an eccentric, lyrical, unpredictable landscape entirely its own. Even so, I couldn’t help thinking that this is how it would look if Alain Guiraudie and David Lynch got together to remake Buñuel’s The Milky Way.

  • Rodrigues lingers over the erotic imagery of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom and tantalizes with suggestions of the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Alain Giraudie, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. But it’s not obsequiously referential; instead, the film syncretizes these many points of intersection into an utterly idiosyncratic personal mythos, a wild congregation of styles, tones, and icons that coheres into a kind of self-portraiture that remains enigmatic and achingly intimate.

  • 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 Hail Mary (1985) or Buñuel’s The Milky Way (1969). Also kind of a gloss on the western, The Ornithologist meanders in a pleasurable, kind of kooky way, befitting a film whose title evokes an Ornette Coleman album.

  • Rodrigues' loosest, freest film, alternately playful and serious, fantastical and grounded; a via crucis of transformation, like a snake shedding its skin or a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, an entire lifetime of cinephilia summed up and crystallized in two hours. It’s the gorgeous, supremely self-confident film I always felt Rodrigues could do if only he would let go—and he did.

  • In the hands of a lesser director, all of The Ornithologist's competing signs would likely shake themselves apart, but Rodrigues is in such total control that the journey is impossibly smooth. Perhaps the best analogy for his wonderfully singular gaze is that of all the countless birds on Fernando's journey keep looking back at him; theirs is a gaze that quietly upends standard perspectives and takes flight as it will.

  • [Rodrigues] continues the soul-searching outlook and inventive storytelling of “The Last Time I Saw Macao” and “To Die Like a Man,” but reaches for even more ambitious territory with equally confounding and enlightening results. This isn’t a crossover moment for Rodrigues, a favorite in certain diehard cinephile sects, but nevertheless marks a major step forward.

  • The most dangerous game. The homoerotic dangers of the flesh, the sinister allure of nature, the sainthood of lust. The film is safer than it wants to be, risk is submerged to authorial effects in a manner desire usually isn’t in Rodrigues previous work, to given to current festival approved tableaux to quite achieve the anti via crucis of desire it is striving for. JP is a very talented guy and most of this is seductive, but I can’t shake the feeling it is all rather academic as well.

  • A hunky scientist (Paul Hamy) studies black storks through binoculars from his kayak. Later in João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist, this title character turns into a different person Lost Highway–style, played by Rodrigues himself. The film obscurely recasts the life of St. Anthony of Padua for modern times.

  • It's as shapeless and picaresque as the conventional Lives of the Saints, forming a clothesline more than a narrative. Granted, when this concerns getting peed on and being hogtied and swinging with your junk hanging out, as is the case here, it feels a bit more dreamlike, which is probably what Rodrigues is going for. At the same time, The Ornithologist gets a bit tiresome in its relentless punishment of the nonbeliever.

  • The film recalls both Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady and Alain Guiraudie’s picaresque adventures, though it doesn’t always benefit from the comparison. Neither as effortlessly lyrical as the former, nor as surefootedly funny as the latter, Rodrigues and co-writer João Rui Guerra da Mata’s hit-and-miss inventions too often come off as mere provocation.

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