Ornithologists: a strange bunch. Imagine being so enthralled by the mere sight of a bird that you allow your kayak to get sucked into life-endangering rapids. Obviously there are lots of branches of zoology and people get off on studying all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures. I just have a hard time imagining an entomologist (a person who studies insects) getting half as nutty and obsessive about ants as the average bird watcher is about anything.
Fernando (Paul Hamy) is an ornithologist who seems to relish the solitary aspects of quietly pursing winged friends. But one day his quest to lay eyes on a black stork goes too far and it gets him into serious trouble. I have trouble feeling sorry for him, because if he was going to half the effort to watch an ex-girlfriend, we’d call it stalking and throw him in jail. Am I really to believe it’s any less creepy when the subject of his intensity is a bird? In my book, that makes it worse. Luckily for him, a) I’m not the bird police, and b) a couple of lady hikers rescue him when the bird poop hits the fan.
The Ornithologist sets a strange tone right away. I don’t trust it because the camera focuses on certain things and I don’t know why. It sets me on edge straight away. Before the story has even begun, this movie is talking to me. Its angles, and especially through his binoculars, give such a restricted view it makes me nervous.
Unfortunately, the slightly odd, “good Christian” Chinese hikers are lost, and they beg Fernando to stay with them as they are quite afraid of the forest. I concur, ladies. These woods are scary – though perhaps not half threatening as the people in them.
The Ornithologist is a deeply strange movie and it absolutely will not appeal to everyone. Director João Pedro Rodrigues mixes Catholic symbolism with Portuguese mythology to make a muddy, opaque picture that will allow you to discover new facets of yourself, even as Fernando does the same on screen. Personally, I developed a new mantra while watching The Ornithologist. I was at the 1h16m mark when I realized I was quietly chanting whatthefuckishappening over and over. I still don’t know the answer but I do know I have an impressive capacity for audacious meditation.