A small, nervous man walks away from camera down a studio hallway. He slips further and further out of focus as he goes until he is just a blur, almost swallowed up by the studio or the screen itself. So beginsBerberian Sound Studio.
Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is an English sound mixer who has been invited to Italy to work on the sound design for the new film by auteur Santini (Antonio Mancino). But the world awaiting him is unfamiliar in every way. He is surrounded by Italian speakers, the people are outspoken and brash while he is reserved and most jarring of all, the film is a brutally violent thriller…although not a horror film, as Santini is at pains to point out. The only thing Gilderoy has to cling to is the studio and its sound equipment, the welcoming tools of his trade.
As tensions around the filmmakers and difficulties in his living arrangements – including ongoing battles to try and get his expenses reimbursed – Gilderoy seeks sanctuary by immersing himself more and more into his work. Then the violence and surrealism of the film begins to bleed into his own life…
Director Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio is an unusual beast. Less interested with a conventional narrative, its focus is more on the mechanisms of film, particularly of sound design, in exploring our relationship with cinematic violence. As Gilderoy hacks away at various pieces of fruit and vegetable for his ‘gore’ sound effects, we are never privy to the action he is scoring…yet we feel the hideousness all the same.
The movie is a somewhat frustrating experience on first viewing, as the story meanders and ultimately goes nowhere as the line between reality and Gilderoy’s imagination blurs. As such, it may alienate many viewers hoping for a traditional plot and characters. This is film as exploration, and all of the technical elements are top drawer.
The giallo influence is throughout, from the distinctive music to the extreme close-ups of eyes and, of course, the unseen projectionist identified only by the black gloves he uses as he starts and stops his machinery. It was a sub-genre dedictated to style over substance and Berberian Sound Studio is certainly stylish. The gorgeous cinematography by Nicholas D. Knowland is lush and evocative while all of the performances are excellent, particularly Jones, depicting inner turmoil with very little outward expression.
In the end, Berberian Sound Studio is likely a work for a select audience. The choice to completely sacrifice story for subtext is one that is difficult to defend. Despite all of its (considerable) charms, ranging from some terrific black comic moments to some daring moves like the film ‘burning through’ to another underneath at one point, the movie remains a curiosity, rather than a classic.
Technically, there are three main extras, being behind-the-scenes b-roll footage, cast interviews and a “making of” featurette, but in fact the featurette actually consists of the aforementioned footage intercut with the interviews.
The material here is interesting, as the main players expound on the purpose behind Berberian Sound Studio and the aspects that attracted each to the project. It is not particularly in-depth, but certainly more open in terms of thematic substance than your average “tell us about your character” type of fare normally delivered.
DIRECTOR(S): Peter Strickland | COUNTRY: UK | YEAR 2012 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 16:9 | REGION: 4 / PAL | DISCS: 1