Saint Bernard is dreamlike moreso than most movies that attempt this distinction. Its journey of a music conductor into the mouth of madness works in symbol and metaphor with gleeful breaks in logic. Moments and places only mesh in that our hero, Bernard (Jason Dugre) walks from one to another. Beyond that, any continuity is loose with sketches clipping through each other like a man waking from and falling back into sleep over and over and over.
The best I can figure is that this is about a man abused by his uncle who turns to drugs and ruins his career. In so many ways, maybe all Saint Bernard is trying to say is don’t do drugs, kids.
Director: Gabriel Bartalos
Release Date: May 14, 2019 (DVD, VOD)
Saint Bernard has one of the most genuinely dreamlike moments I’ve experienced in a film. Bernard, after entering a police station, finds himself face-to-face with the chief of police–who happens to be a wine-guzzling goblin. This goblin rears up as soon as Bernard stands before him, and the monster-man begins hacking and gasping while clutching at his throat. Bernard is frozen for a terrible instant before one of the officers yells that Bernard is standing on the chief’s oxygen tube. And sure enough, taped to the floor is a tube which Bernard’s shoes are crushing down. He quickly steps off and attempts at an apology, sweaty and embarrassed, that he didn’t realize that of course the chief’s oxygen line would be running across the floor straight in front of him. He tries to explain, but no one seems to care. It’s this genuine emotional response to a purely absurd situation that strikes me most. This real understanding despite the nonsense of Saint Bernard‘s universe is the essence of a dream, and Saint Bernard is sprinkled with moments like these. They’re usually small in the grand scheme of the film, but that’s the nature of looking back over a dream. It’s the minuscule almost insignificant moments that seem to carry the most emotional weight.
Also, there’s a character named Static Boy who’s a giant turd with TV-snow eyes, and he has a very nice and charming smile while shitting pure liquid onto the pavement. It’s cool.
Unfortunately, between blasts of visceral absurdity Saint Bernard gets mired in long stretches that feel more like listening to someone else describe their dreams than reliving your own. Sometimes you just have a frame of an Etch-A-Sketch line circling some random person or a dragging section in which Bernard walks through a weird-ish place for much too long. There’s a whole sequence where he’s in France and gets trapped in a wooden cocoon, and a lumberjack chainsaws him free. It lacks the guttural punch of other sequences, and I failed to pull any humor from it. Then, Bernard goes and sees a band in what might be the most out-of-place scene in the film, since it’s totally normal. He’s just at a concert for a bit. The music isn’t even weird.
The greatest challenge with something so surreal is that aside from the imagery there’s little to grasp onto, and if those images don’t compel for long enough, then the mind wanders. Saint Bernard, despite doing better than most, doesn’t entirely escape this fate. I wish it was a kaleidoscopic blast of weird that ran under ninety minutes, because as it is the film just barely overstays its welcome. There’s more than enough oddity to keep drawing me back in, but my attention waxed and waned for sure.
At its best, Saint Bernard is like a David Lynch parody seen through a Tim and Eric lens. Abraham Lincoln flips off the camera after winning (or losing?) a football game over Benjamin Franklin’s electricity-discovering key with Andrew Jackson. A decapitated Saint Bernard head steadily decays throughout the movie. Raw chickens are literally parachuted from a plane onto strange half-naked people trying to fight back with a catapult. This all culminates in a climax in which Bernard’s filthy uncle morphs into a Tetsuo: the Iron Man of musical instruments (who’s also the devil, I think) and attacks Bernard. There are a dozen other weird and wonderful images I’m sure I’ve forgotten. This would be a perfect movie to play in the background of a Halloween party for friends and family to periodically stop and gawk at, mouths open, wondering just what the hell is going on.
At turns funny, horrifying, and a tad boring Saint Bernard rewards patient weirdos with moments they never knew they needed on film. There are images burned in my head and scenes I would love to revisit, but the drier stretches between slows my enthusiasm for a repeat viewing.