Every year in the month of March, the Gene Siskel Film Center hosts the Chicago European Union Film Festival. I’ll give capsule reviews of as many of the films as I can. All films are shown at the Film Center, 164 N. State Street, right across State St. from the Chicago Theater. See you there!
João Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist (O Ornitólogo) (Portugal, 2016) is a gorgeous and heady experience. A lone naturalist, Fernando (Paul Hamy), is camped alone deep in the Portuguese woods, studying birds and looking for rare species. A kayaking accident, however, turns his peaceful scientific idyll into a series of ordeals as he strives to work his way back to civilization. Much of what transpires on Fernando’s trek parallels Saint Anthony of Padua, the Portuguese saint canonized in the 13th century as a moving orator (he’s famous for once preaching to fishes to shame a town of heretics), a devout friend of the poor and the patron saint of lost things. But Rodrigues intersperses many of his own historical, mythical and autobiographical concerns as well, sometimes humorously, sometimes blasphemously, sometimes frighteningly, and as the film progresses, our grasp on how real ‘real’ is in these woods becomes a slippery and abstract thing. The last film of his I saw was 2012’s The Last Time I Saw Macao, another dreamy travelogue of a different sort, but Rodrigues has a much firmer grip on the narrative this time, which allows his creative conceits to be far more involving. Many references will float past the ordinary viewer, but it’s all so well-constructed, and so appealingly surprising from episode-to-episode, that very little of this will bother you. It’ll get a regular theatrical run, but this is a great opportunity for an early peek. I highly recommend it.
“The Ornithologist” will screen again on Thursday, March 23rd at 6:00 pm.