*25. SAINT BERNARD (2013)

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“I proudly slam my flag in the sand that Saint Bernard is not for ‘them’— whoever ‘them’ is, but you and I know who ‘them’ are— and I don’t want ‘them’ seeing the film.” —Gabriel Bartalos

DIRECTED BY: Gabriel Bartalos

FEATURING: Jason Dugre

PLOT: An orchestra conductor travels through an increasingly bizarre milieux while carrying a dog’s severed head in a bag.

BACKGROUND:

  • Gabriel Bartalos only directed two features, the bizarro slasher film Skinned Deep (2004) and this one. He was, however, much in demand as a practical special effects and makeup expert, working on many popular horror movies (including several projects). He also provided effects and makeup ‘sCremaster” films (2, 3, and 4).
  • The film is dedicated to Benoît LeStang, a French make-up/special effects artist involved in, among many other projects, Brotherhood of the Wolf.
  • Saint Bernard was shot on 35mm film over the course of 10 days in a screen ratio of 1.78:1; standard dimensions in France—a country somehow on the hook for producing this.
  • The movie is only known to have screened once—at the San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival—before being released to Blu-ray in 2019.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Seeing as this story is chock-full of unsettling and grotesque sequences, the whimsical emergence of young conductor Bernard from a sweet-dreams variant of the Něco z Alenky mansion stands out for its sunny magical surrealism. The smiling lad in a crisp white suit and bow-tie ably batons through a classical performance amplified from an iPod for a receptive audience of his peers.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Doggie bag; Uncle Ed the Music Monster

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDSaint Bernard is intensely cryptic, but always engaging—even as the symbolism (or, perhaps mere randomness) is slapped on without mercy. Our cursèd conductor endures the unfathomable: liberation by chainsaw-wielding Frenchman; a run-in with a deformed wino police chief; a would-be escape through a fecal puddle emitted by Static Boy. Is it all meaningless? Perhaps; but this is Goremeister Arthäus . It may waste your time, but it does so with gooey gusto.

Original trailer for Saint Bernard

COMMENTS: “Hey, um, I need help,” admits the film’s protagonist at the halfway mark. After watching Saint Bernard, you may need help as well. It was perhaps the pursuit of self-help that led director/writer/ producer (and practical effects virtuoso) Gabriel Bartalos to assemble this dream quest. Along with his resilient, white-suit-clad hero, the audience is sluiced through a bizarre psychomedley-in-motion.

Like El Topo, Bernard is on a nebulous quest—outfitted with a dead dog’s head in a sack instead of a naked child. But unlike El Topo, the trajectory of Saint Bernard‘s path lacks a consistent framework and any apparent overarching theme. Bernard is introduced mid-hustle from unknown pursuers, before collapsing in a warehouse, taking advantage of his temporary respite to provide some backstory. Born a conductor, quite possibly in the white suit he is never seen without, young Bernard could always feel rhythms, and control them. That is, until a devastating affair with drug abuse (we infer). The comparative lack of clarity descends into utter opacity during a performance at a black-box theater, when improbable quantities and varieties of drug paraphernalia tumble from his jacket.

From then on—and to be honest, beforehand—things get weird. And not in a “not normal” kind of way, but a genuinely strange way, with (probably?) random encounters segueing from one to the next, dream illogic bridging the vignettes. A laundry-list of the odd and (possibly?) meaningful legs of Bernard’s journey could stand on its own; but a quick glimpse would include a post-coital car accident victim being grateful to the legless driver for her own newly minted leglessness; Bernard escaping a lustful lady through a pool of sewage; and a final showdown with his own mentor, who is transforming into a Tsukamotoid assembly of orchestral instruments.

This final scene, ‘twixt conductor and mentor-monster, encapsulates the difficulty in assessing Saint Bernard. While an undeniably creative—and unassailably weird—current runs throughout, Bartalos seems to have no end game in mind. On its own, the battle between the two is amusing enough, and technically impressive; but too many of Saint Bernard‘s set-pieces, and even segues, work alone, and not together. As any dream logic adventurer can tell you, you don’t need a sensible chain of cause and effect, or even an arc to pin sundry adventures upon. You do need, however, a progression of some kind—a development either with the character growing, or events heading toward a tonal conclusion.

But Saint Bernard just kind of ends. This deficiency (if one must call it that) is in keeping with the tenor of the film. Our nonsensical adventure with Bernard begins with action: a plucked turkey, strapped into a parachute rig, on the cusp of diving out of a plane. After fleeing the tootling terror during the film’s climax, Bernard’s final act is to plunge into water. So, there is some symmetry; and there is never a static moment. But buck up. Saint Bernard jumped for greatness, and missed. As a consummate blood-and-gore effects man, Gabriel Bartalos should be pleased enough that his film managed to split its head open as it smacked the bulls-eye’s edge before slipping viscidly over the side.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“….an unreleasable, indulgent exercise in cinematic absurdity, a daft blend of Terry Gilliam and Luis Buñuel grotesques and second year film student horror.” —Roger Moore, Movie Nation (Blu-ray)

“One of only two features to have been directed by special effects maestro Gabriel Bartalos, 2013’s Saint Bernard is, in a word, insane… Bartalos’ strength for creating unsettling and truly weird imagery is not wasted here, there’s plenty of it to go around and it serves as a showcase for just how off the wall unbridled creativity can get.” —Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)

OFFICIAL SITE:

Saint Bernard – The official on-line home for the film, featuring stills, trailer, reviews, contact information, and the like

IMDB LINK: Saint Bernard (2013)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

St. Bernard the Movie – Official Facebook page (last updated 2019)

Atlantic West Effects – Home site for Gabriel Bartalos’ special effects company, with samples of the maestro’s work as well as contact information

Father Son Holy Gore’s Interview with FX Legend Gabe Bartalos – An illuminating transcript of Father Son Holy Gore’s telephone conversation with Gabriel Bartalos.

The DEFORMITIES of Gabe Bartalos – Scott Ian’s Bloodworks – Episode of a Youtube series exploring practical special effects, explaining Bartalos’ past work and methods, with a minute or so devoted to St. Bernard (this clip is extremely gory)

HOME VIDEO INFO:

Being the kind of people they are, the folks at Severin made a special effort to clean St. Bernard up, burn it to disc, and even tack on a couple of extras on DVD (buy) or Blu-ray (buy). Gaze ye in wide-eyed wonder at a clean image, the film trailer, a “making of” featurette, and a snazzy, Limited Edition slip-cover.

St. Bernard is also available for digital rental or purchase (buy or rent). At the time of this writing, it is playing for free on Tubi.

(This movie was nominated for review by Thomas Ronca, who dubbed it “100% Weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Where to watch Saint Bernard

4 thoughts on “*25. SAINT BERNARD (2013)”

  1. I tried to watch this movie but couldn’t get far; I think you nailed it as far as not having an end game. I would add something else- we can keep watching if there’s a charismatic actor doing the dream logic wandering, of if he’s at least properly dressed. In his ridiculous white tux with his pale, bloated, sweaty visage, Dugre (?) is not pleasing to look upon. With Lynch or Jodorowsky too the dream symbolism all connects to unconscious archetypes – they feel like real dreams. Saint Bernard just feels like a guy trying to be as weird as possible without having anything real to say, which is a problem every Frenchman who isn’t Rollin seems to have when doing dream logic (I didn’t like City of Lost Children or Holy Motors for the same reason). Terry Gilliam is probably the worst offender – grotesqueness for its own sake smacks of desperation.

  2. For a good simile, this movie’s like the ravings of a lunatic. You’re fascinated and sickened all at once.

    Quick question: for Casino Royale, what caused that movie to be upgraded from capsule to apocrypha?

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