João Pedro Rodrigues’ new film O Ornitólogo already in the editing room
by Vitor Pinto
- French actor Paul Hamy stars as an ornithologist embarking on a spiritual journey
Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues is currently finishing the editing of his new feature, O Ornitólogo [+see also:
interview: João Pedro Rodrigues
film profile] (lit. “The Ornithologist”). The project is a very peculiar reinterpretation of the myth and life of Saint Anthony – a religious figure known particularly well in Portugal, who had already partly inspired Rodrigues’ 2012 short Morning of Saint Anthony's Day.
O Ornitólogo extends and deepens the topics of spirituality and introspective voyages, which Rodrigues already approached in his two latest films, To Die Like a Man [+see also:
film profile] and The Last Time I Saw Macao [+see also:
film profile]. Written by Rodrigues himself and João Rui Guerra da Mata, the script follows a 40-year-old ornithologist named Fernando who decides to go down a river in a kayak, hoping to find extremely rare black storks. Distracted by the beauty of the landscape, Fernando is soon thrown overboard by the current, and his motionless, bloody body reaches the riverbank.
According to the religious legend, Saint Anthony’s boat reached the coast of Italy, where he was rescued by Franciscan priests. However, in Rodrigues’ version, the saviours are two fanatical Chinese girls making their way along the St James’ Path…
“These Chinese girls will save him and won’t feel like letting him go. They see his presence as comforting and redeeming,” says Rodrigues, who admits to having used some personal elements to build up his lead character. “I gave him my age, my sexuality, my concerns. He is a mutating character – like most of the characters from my previous films. His identity is changing – and perhaps that is something that gains some sense once you turn 40, once you start thinking about the lives you have not lived,” explains Rodrigues, who chose a much younger actor – French César Award nominee Paul Hamy – to star as Fernando as he is on the verge of being re-baptised as Anthony.
Shot between August and November last year in the Douro region and in the Italian city of Padua, O Ornitólogo is being produced by Portugal’s Blackmaria in co-production with France’s House on Fire and Brazil’s Ítaca Films. Given Rodrigues’ international profile, it would not be surprising to find O Ornitólogo in one of the forthcoming top international showcases.
Rodrigues is one of the most renowned names on Portugal’s arthouse scene. He first entered the spotlight in 2000 with his controversial feature debut, Phantom [+see also:
film profile]. In the last 15 years, during which time he has chopped and changed between short and feature-length projects, he has been a regular presence at Cannes, Locarno and other international festivals. O Ornitólogo is his fifth fiction feature.