Nearly half a century after gay Marxist atheist Pier Paolo Pasolini shocked Italy by delivering a version of St. Matthew's Gospel that played the story relatively straight, director Joao Pedro Rodrigues offers a film about another saint, this time Anthony, though it's more in line with Derek Jarman's radically queer film about Saint Sebastian. Rodrigues takes key elements of Anthony's story—he was born Fernando; he was shipwrecked on the way back from a mission; he held Jesus when he was an infant; "he had brought a young man back to life with a single magic breath"; and he had a "fascination with nature and animals"—and irreverently reconfigures all of them into an erotic misadventure in which our hero is filled with the spirit groin-first.
Fernando (Paul Hamy), the titular ornithologist, is searching for black storks on a river when rapids send his kayak into some rocks around a nearby forest. Two Catholic pilgrims from China rescue him, but after he expresses doubts about malignant spirits in the forest and refuses to shepherd them through the evil, they decide to leave him tied to a tree, stripped to his underwear, bulging through the rope like a Gengoroh Tagame drawing. He escapes, but without a signal to reach his boyfriend back home, or anyone outside of the wooded hills, he descends further into limbo. Fernando's scientific rationalism, which at first treats his new surroundings and its inhabitants with a harried, anthropological remove, slowly gives way to a ramshackle spiritual immersion of grave historical import.
Director Rodrigues is contending with the lingering effects of Portuguese colonialism, pitting Fernando against the religious iconography his country once imprinted on its colonies. The story of Saint Anthony is thrust onto him, albeit in deliriously homoerotic fashion, whether it's getting urinated on by pagans or going skinny dipping with a deaf-mute goat herder named, you guessed it, Jesus. In a review of "Salo" and "Porcile," critic Jonathan Rosenbaum relays a friend's complaint that, "[t]he problem with Pasolini…is that he wants to be fucked by Jesus and Marx at the same time."
With "The Ornithologist," Rodrigues demonstrates how that's not a problem at all.
Directed by Joao Pedro Rodrigues, screening all week at the Parkway Theatre.