The life Francis is living is not one to be envied. His mother committed suicide when he was a young child, he’s strung-out on cocaine and other drugs, he cuts himself regularly but doesn't have the guts to end it all, he’s slowly losing grip on reality, and he has a hell of a dysfunctional family for a support system. His father is a radical evangelist, his sister Soul makes money in the sex-trade as a madam, and his little brother Sid is an inefficient drug-dealer who owes some bad people a lot of money.
All of these things come to a head one fateful night for Francis, as he’s running out of drugs, his definition of his own existence is spiraling out of control, his father is on the TV and radio everywhere he turns, and his brother Sid only has hours left before some nasty people decide his time is up. His head is also swarming with visions that his sister Soul has committed a terrible crime and that he may be her only salvation.
To be completely honest, I don’t really know what to make of Saint Francis. The film attempts to be a mind-bending affair on the level of a film from David Lynch, but fails on almost every level. While I never fully understand a Lynch film the first-time through, I almost always notice that there’s a puzzle there to solve, with many intricacies and nuances to be found upon subsequent viewing; in other words, I look forward to watching his films over again and unlocking my own meanings. I didn’t feel that way whatsoever while watching Saint Francis. I never had the notion that there was something “big” lying under the surface, and if I committed myself to viewing it again that things would begin to reveal themselves. The only thing I got from the film was a mish-mash of ideas and rotten execution. While the ideas may have had the best of intentions and looked good on paper, the end result is anything but rewarding.
There’s also a number of other problems I had with the film, and I suppose going down the list rapid-fire would be the best way to get them all out of the way; so excuse me if this paragraph comes off as a hodgepodge of ideas, but you’ll at least get a feeling of what watching the actual flick was like! For starters, the narrator is awful; he sounds like someone you would hear narrating a really bad made-for-school documentary you watched in sixth grade. It works fine in the scenes where he’s actually narrating something that’s supposed to come off as an informational piece, but when he narrates events going on in the story, it feels really hokey. I’m not sure if they were going for a “voice of god” thing or what, but like a lot of other things in the film, it doesn’t work. The bizarre alien overtones present within the picture are absolutely mind-boggling, and I have no clue as to what they have to do with anything. While I already stated I didn’t fully comprehend the intention of the flick, I did get the vibe that they were going for a heavy religious and spiritual undercurrent, and what aliens and glowing wands to the forehead had to do with that I’ll never know. There’s also a porn-shooting scene in the middle of the film that really had nothing to do with anything else, if only to show the scum that Sid and Soul are involved with, but it went on for too long and was hilariously over-the-top. Lastly, the sense of time in Saint Francis is utterly fucked; I’m sure this was intentional, but I dare you to try and keep track of when and where you are in the actual events of the story. I understand that the filmmaker was attempting to make a challenging film, with hallucinatory elements that were supposed to blur the line between reality and fantasy, but the final product borders on frustration.
Saint Francis does deserve some credit in one respect, and that’s its technical merits. I’ve seen a lot of indie, low-budget films in my time, and what the crew has managed to achieve in this film should be commended, as it avoids nearly every pitfall that most of these type of films fall into. Shot on digital, the movie looks pretty film-like, with no grain to speak of. The lighting is great, and not one thing is lost in any murky, badly-lit rooms. Even outdoor scenes in the middle of the night look wonderful. Most importantly is the sound design and recording work done; everyone interested in making an indie film should take note. Not one word of dialogue is ever muffled or missed, and everything rings through amazingly clear. For some reason, a lot of indie filmmakers can’t seem to record dialogue efficiently, so all involved here should pat themselves on the back for a job well-done. The only real problem in the technical department I found was the editing, but not for the reasons I generally associate with low-budget films. Instead of needing tighter editing, the film could have benefit from less schizophrenic editing. I would have liked to have seen certain scenes given more breathing room, and a little more focus and clarity on the narrative would have been beneficial instead of the ADD-induced way the film is edited together. Also, kudos to the actors involved, as while I doubt any of them will find larger roles due to their work here, they’re all of a higher-caliber than you usually find in films such as this.
A well-made film doesn’t always equal a good movie, and that’s the case with Saint Francis. While it excels as an indie film in the acting and technical areas, it flounders in the one section that really matters: the execution. If you’re looking to make your own film, I’d certainly recommend checking this out to see how it’s definitely possible to make a low-budget flick that doesn’t look and sound like shit, but if you’re just a layman that enjoys watching good movies, there’s not much to see.
Saint Francis sees release on DVD courtesy of Redemption Films. The film is presented in its original full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio and looks pretty damn good. The transfer does justice to the quality job the crew did with filming, and I didn’t notice any real problems. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is clear, albeit a bit on the loud side, and for a 2.0 mix actually has some nice directionality. The disc includes 3 extra scenes cut from the film, all of the T&A variety, so you’ll be able to see some of the ladies from the flick in a more revealing manner than you did in the actual film itself. The disc is rounded out with a music video by Jon Ben Berger, a stills gallery, and trailers for this and other Redemption releases.
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