Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the surrealist feature SAINT BERNARD by writer/director Gabriel Bartalos. To best describe the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:
“A classical music conductor unravels in the abyss of insanity.”
Let us start this review off with a bit of honesty: beyond that above description, I cannot describe the story. This is pure surrealist fare meaning that everyone is going to interpret things differently and there might be subtext that I missed. If I were to go incredibly basic, I would say that we watch as a conductor stumbles from one situation to the next, each with bizarre results. People who love surrealism will feel right at home here, but, as with all art, this is not for everyone.
Instead of trying to capture the story, allow me to try to portray the beats. What starts out as a young child full of hope turns to an adult man being scolded by his family. As he stumbles from scene to scene, we see him boxed in by society, taken advantage of, and constantly spilling out drugs and pills. It seems as if he is seeking some sort of peace, yet he keeps losing it along the way.
As this trip winds along we are treated to some wonderful set design that keeps constantly shifting to reflect the mood. During the earlier, more hopeful scenes there is a fairytale like cottage with bright color schemes that seem fake, yet also inviting. When the pendulum swings the other way, we are offered industrial landscapes full of muted colors and splintered wood that shows the threatening nature of life.
These darker moments are also punctuated by some bang up creature designs which are crafted from prosthetics. By creating the monsters out of practical effects, each beast takes on the look of a distorted version of our reality. This tangibility plays perfectly into the fever dream structure of the film and adds some bite to the bleaker scenes.
All in all, some interesting set and prosthetics work elevate this surrealist trip. Obviously, given the medium, this will not be for everyone, but the audience this appeals to will find a lot to like. Fans of the equally surrealist ERASERHEAD (1977) or the dream sequence from SPELLBOUND (1945) will probably enjoy this romp.