Movie Review – The Ornithologist
This movie totally confused me and I didn’t really understand what was happening. I can describe the events, but what the meaning of those events are has completely escaped me. My best guess is that it’s about a spiritual transformation or a religious transformation. Yet, I don’t see what the point is. The movie is described as a man going on a journey, but it’s not clear what the journey is for. Typically, one goes on a journey to achieve something or gain something. By the end, I’m not sure what the protagonist has achieved or gained. Yes, arguably, the titular character is changed by the end, but I don’t get why he needed to change. I don’t get what was wrong with him or what he was lacking.
Paul Hamy (Disorder and My King) stars as Fernando, a Portuguese ornithologist who is camping out in the middle of the woods near a river. He’s there specifically for bird-watching. His most prized possession is his binoculars, which he uses to observe all the various flying, feathered animals that nest either on or near the river. He’s by himself. He has a car and a cell phone. He also takes medications but it’s not sure for what ailment. He seems content to hang out and occasionally go for a swim.
Things get kick-started when Fernando goes kayaking and he’s caught in some wild rapids, causing his kayak to capsize. After that, he encounters a series of people, each or each group being weirder than the last. With the exception of one of those people, I’m not sure what each encounter is supposed to mean or what the takeaway from each would be.
It feels like the whole thing is one big metaphor or maybe a series of metaphors with some surrealism sprinkled, possibly in the vein of David Lynch. If one considers this film on that level, then it’s passable. One could then derive whatever sensual pleasures come from the weird encounters. Those pleasures always lean toward the phallic. Writer-director João Pedro Rodrigues in almost every encounter takes distinct opportunities to focus on the male genitalia, be it erect, flaccid or in uresis. Yet, I simply didn’t feel whatever Rodrigues wanted it all to add up to be.
First, Fernando encounters two Chinese women who claim to be good, Christian women who believe in spirits that dwell in the woods, spirits that are perhaps the Devil himself. Next, Fernando encounters several unidentified men with masks and pagan costumes as if they’re bird-men. The final people Fernando encounters is a group of topless women on horseback who claim to be hunters. The penultimate person Fernando encounters is a deaf, goat shepherd named Jesus.
All the encounters have some significance, but none are more obvious and possibly on-the-nose than Fernando’s encounter with Jesus, played by Xelo Cagiao (pictured below with binoculars). Given all the religious subtext, this direct, Christian reference is clearly meant to be important, especially since Jesus is the only character that returns in the narrative. With all the other characters, Fernando encounters them once and leaves, never to see them again. Jesus is the exception, somewhat.
Fernando’s encounter with Jesus is what really triggers his change. Before this encounter, why Fernando needs to change is unclear, so why any of it matters is lost, even in the tense moments. Eventually, Fernando’s actions and motivations cease to make any sense after and even during this encounter. Fernando is presumably lost in the woods with no clue how to escape and get back to the town or city where he lives. His cell phone has no signal and low-battery. His car has gone missing with no explanation. He apparently wants to make his way back home, but all of that goes out the window when he encounters Jesus, a deaf mute who is probably the sexiest goat shepherd ever. Fernando engages in a homosexual dalliance with Jesus, but no reason as to why he abandons his desire to return home. He’s seemingly driven to go home because he was at once in physical danger, yet he stops to have sex with this boy and it’s baffling.
From there, things only get weirder. By the end, the whole thing is sheer ridiculousness. Fernando gets shot with a rifle but that has no effect on him. All of a sudden, there’s a twin who dies and comes back to life, as well as taxidermy animals in the woods. There’s also a white bird that follows Fernando and a literal transformation, physically, and I don’t get any of it.
Not Rated but contains bloody images and full-frontal male-female nudity
Running Time: 1 hr. and 57 mins.