A modern-day re-imaging of the mythos of Portuguese Catholic priest Saint Anthony of Padua probably sounds like a hard sell for mainstream audiences. A provocative, lushly-rendered take, filled with erotic imagery may be impossible. Yet, American art-house audiences will at least have an opportunity to weigh in on João Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist as Variety reports that Strand Releasing has acquired U.S. rights to the tale. A festival favorite – the film premiered at the 2016 Locarno Film Festival (where Rodrigues won the Best Director prize) and has since play both the 2016 Toronto and New York film festivals – the film has generated warm critical reaction, stirring conversation in the process.
The film, which stars French actor Paul Hamy (Disorder), centers around Fernando, a solitary ornithologist (one who studies birds) who is washed ashore while searching for endangered black storks along a river fjord in Northern Portugal. Fernando is rescued by a pair of Chinese pilgrims who are lost on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The Ornithologist bends and defies genre distinction as Fernando is eventually put through a series of punishing, Stations-of-the-Cross-style tests as Rodrigues mines themes of both spirituality and eroticism throughout.
In Jay Weissburg’s Variety review, the film was described as a “A delightfully meaning, playfully queer riff on the St. Anthony of Padua legend that uses the classic man-in-a-forest motiff on a journey of self-discovery.” Rodrigues previously helmed past provocative entries including O Fantasma (2000), Two Drifters (2005) and To Die Like a Man (2009). No release date has yet been established for The Ornitologist.