Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hot man-on-man sex, loopy Christianity and Amazons-on-horseback converge on João Pedro Rodrigues' juicy THE ORNITHOLOGIST

Portuguese writer/ director João Pedro Rodrigues is not a guy who, moviemaking-wise, repeats himself -- except in the sense that every movie he makes turns out to be something of a what-the-fuck? experience.

From his early O Fantasma through Two Drifters and To Die Like a Man right up to his latest endeavor to reach our shore, THE ORNITHOLOGIST, the viewer (and just as often the main character) may imagine that he is on somewhat stable ground. Oh, honey: You're not.

The filmmaker, shown at left, does love to surprise us and so it is again here. He even (sort of) co-stars in his own film, turning it in the process into a kind of meta-moviemaking, as he portrays the older or maybe wiser or maybe just the alter ego of his protagonist, played by French actor Paul Hamy (shown below).

M. Hamy is blessed with a tall, muscular and rather amazing body, together with a slightly-Neanderthal face that's also sexy as hell. This is quite a combination, and the actor has what is, so far, his most major role. He inhabits every scene in the film and is, well, wonderfully watchable as he negotiates his journey from what begins as a rather typical, if long-distance and picturesque, bird-watching trip into something very much different and hugely bizarre.

The plot is actually a mere series of run-ins with new characters, yet each grows stranger as the movie rolls out. From a rescue by two lost and oddly religious Chinese girls, our "hero" finds himself trussed up and threatened with castration (below), suddenly involved with a very hot and naked young man (Xelo Cagiao, further below, at right) with whom he bird-watches prior to sex (it's always better in that order, don't you think?), is set upon by a group of Amazons on horseback (even further below), and finally encounters the twin of his former hook-up, even as he turns into... what? Wow. A religious figure? Or maybe the filmmaker himself.

Rodrigues' work is nothing if not mystifying. But it's also difficult to pull yourself away from, particularly if you're attracted to same-sex couplings, philosophy-cum-religion, mysticism, and stories so bizarre that they seem more like waking dreams than most movies you'll have witnessed (a second viewing of this guy's films is very nearly a requirement).

When, toward the finale, a character notes,"There are certain things you shouldn't try to understand," you will probably agree, muttering, "Yes. Like this movie." But I suspect you'll want to finish it nonetheless. Visually, it's a non-stop treat -- from the birds at the film's beginning to the gorgeous location photography (who knew Portugal had such lovely, verdant areas?), to the whoppingly watchable Hamy.

Saint Anthony of Padua figures into all this, too, but since I am not a scholar of religion, I can't offer much guidance there, except to say that the movie finally seems like some sort of journey of the soul (and body: thank goodness for M. Hamy!) that culminate in a rather sweet and surprising scene, especially given all that's occurred previously.

Seeing The Ornithologist made me revisit my earlier posts on João Pedro Rodrigues, during which I found my round-up of his earlier films plus an interview I'd done with the filmmaker back in 2010, in which he proved a most delightful explorer of his own work, of Portugal, and lots else. (You can read that interview by clicking here.)

Meanwhile, Rodrigues' latest work -- via Strand Releasing, in English and Portuguese with English subtitles, and running just under two full hours (you'll get your money's worth in mystification) -- arrives in theaters this Friday, June 23, in New York City, where it plays the IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It then hits Los Angeles (at the Landmark NuArt) and Chicago (at the Music Box) the following Friday, June 30. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then click on Screenings.

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