30 Days of Queer Cinema - Day 19 | The Ornithologist

The spirit of Pier Paolo Pasolini hangs over João Pedro Rodrigues' gleefully blasphemous The Ornithologist, which turns religious iconography on its head in a journey of self-discovery and tribulation in the Portuguese wilderness. 

The film follows an Ornithologist who becomes hopelessly lost after a near-death experience on a river, through a series of harrowing and erotic trials that recall the Stations of the Cross. Kidnapped by Chinese pilgrims who seek to castrate him, the Ornithologist escapes, only to encounter a marauding band of circus performers, a deaf/mute Jesus with whom he has an unexpected sexual encounter, and topless female hunters on horseback resembling centaurs who may either help or hurt him.

It is a strange, erotic odyssey, after which our protagonist (a representation of St. Anthony) is literally and figuratively a different person. As a journey of spiritual self-discovery, it's an often abstract and obfuscating film; but what magic! What depth! As he did in the brilliant To Die Like a Man, Rodrigues takes us on a haunting trip through the mind of a man in transition (occasionally played by Rodrigues himself), grappling with issues of sexuality and religion in powerful and deeply personal ways. Rodrigues' intentisn't always clear, but that's part of what makes The Ornithologist such a fascinating puzzle. As frequently breathtaking as it is mesmerizing, it explores the ideas of sexual and spiritual identity as a kind of "Dark Night of the Soul" religious trial. There's something almost primordial about the film, reminiscent of Apichatpong Weerasathakul's Tropical Malady, wherein the protagonist grapples with exterior forces in the wilderness that may or may not come from within. A hushed, whispered, almost transcendent work of spiritual self-exploration.


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