The Ornithologist (2017; João Pedro Rodrigues)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, June 7, at the Landmark Clay in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
Un-tethered weirdness for the sake of weirdness from Portuguese writer-director Rodrigues (The Last Time I Saw Macao). The Ornithologist is an alternately hypnotic and slumberous hike deep into a wacky jungle of death, madness and religious symbolism.
Paul Hamy headlines as the titular bird expert, a handsome cipher named Fernando whose expedition gets waylaid first by kayak-crushing rapids, and then by the pair of psychotic Chinese pilgrims who both save and threaten his life.
Lost and on the run, the ornithologist’s escape turns episodic in the Conrad/Coppola mold, only with a thick dollop of sleepy surrealism on top. Along his journey, Fernando encounters a forest of taxidermy predators, a band of marauding jungle spirits and a down-to-clown sheepherder, and the action only gets more drowsily impenetrable from there.
The Ornithologist doesn’t lack for singularly strange moments. Rodrigues uses a darkly atmospheric score and the lush, liquid fire images of cinematographer Rui Poças to great effect. However, I mostly felt as frustrated and adrift as the protagonist.