Sometimes you think a movie is going to feel like something Pier Paolo Pasolini might have made early in his career, but it ends up feeling more like something Pasolini might have made late in his career — which is very much where João Pedro Rodrigues’ beautiful The Ornithologist lands. Fernando (Paul Hamy) is a hunk-tactuar bird-watcher studying rare black storks along a Portuguese river.
After the rapids throw him off course, Fernando finds himself on a journey modeled after that of St. Anthony of Padua. He encounters a pair of castration-minded Chinese missionaries (Han Wen and Chan Suan), pagans in animal costumes dancing around a fire, and, of course, topless Latin-speaking Amazons on horseback. The film is being sold on the unquestionably stunning image of Hamy in his tighty-whities, and there’s plenty of nudity and man-on-man action with a deaf-mute twink of a shepherd whose name is totally coincidentally Jesus (Xelo Cagiao). But The Ornithologist keeps itself grounded by keeping Hamy fully clothed much of the time — as survival in the woods would require — and it makes the more fantastical elements that much more effective. Like We Are the Flesh — a similarly explicit film with strong religious imagery — The Ornithologist undercuts its carefully constructed world in its final minutes, but up through the moment when the moon turns red as blood, it’s a mesmerizing journey.
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.