The Ornithologist is an intriguing Portuguese contribution to the latin magical realism genre. Its opening's stunning scenes of birdlife along a river near the Portugal/Spain border have the quality of a David Attenborough nature classic.
João Pedro Rodrigues pulls off a hat trick: director, screenwriter and actor. Auteur with attitude. This film has echoes of some of the work of Federico Fellini.
Unfortunately, the film loses much of its meaning and impact if you don't know the religious backstory. It is difficult not to slip into spoilers. Our birdman Fernando, played convincingly by Paul Hamy, has a tortuous journey along the river after a mishap. It draws on a bizarre mixture of elements: pilgrimage; Greek epic; and even the John Boorman classic Deliverance.
He faces a series of trials that ultimately produce a phantasmagorical transformation. The range of languages used gives an indication of the strange characters we encounter: Portuguese, English, Mandarin, Mirandese, Latin. We are taken somewhat seductively somewhere between a spirit world and a spiritual one.
Rodrigues has called his intentions blasphemous and irreligious. There is little doubt he meant to offend some and delight others. If you're looking for something a bit different, then join his flight of fantasy.