The Hallucinatory Splendor of the Wonderfully Weird Saint Bernard

Few cinematic ventures aspire to a degree of lunacy so joyously achieved by the berserk Saint Bernard. It was conceived by groundbreaking makeup effects artist Gabe Bartalos, operating here at the height of his formidable talents. His extraordinary work is a phantasmagorical feast of hallucinatory splendor, a voyage into a disturbed mind on the brink of insanity. Bartalos’ intensely personal journey merges grindhouse-era grit with arthouse aspirations, needling the mind, while pummeling the senses.

We witness Bernard (Jason Dugre), a maestro plunged into deep depression, as he grapples with painful memories, and vivid nightmares, manifesting in the flesh. The film’s unique visual palette envisions a landscape where horrific characters lurk in outlandish settings, concealing restorative power beneath a frightening veneer. In order to resist the internalized monsters responsible for his despair, Bernard is forced to excavate deeply-rooted trauma. These encounters challenge Bernard to topple his protective barriers, and resurrect his zest for music.

Saint Bernard unspools on a tableau of the twisted anatomy, absurdist comedy, and the impossible creatures for which the versatile Bartalos is celebrated. The film is a showcase for the director’s dynamic range as a purveyor of bizarre imagery, where his surrealist sensibilities blend seamlessly with the film’s pitch black comedic narrative. Bartalos develops mise-en-scène through an amalgam of found objects, splatter gore, and exquisite sculpture work, a configuration of his many obsessions.

Saint Bernard is a singular work, gleefully embracing its what-the-fuckery, and ascending to profound heights of self-reflection. The story serves as moving allegory for artists who’ve faced similar crisis in devotion to their craft. In that regard, it functions as an engaging, and strangely therapeutic, foray into the realm of supremely weird and wonderful cinema.

Chris Hallock | Programmer, Boston Underground Film Festival

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