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Berberian Sound Studio

2012 | 92 min | BBFC: 15 | 1.85:1

Berberian Sound Studio


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Movie appeal

Psychological thriller25%



Theatrical release date

 14 June, 2013
 31 August, 2012

Country of origin

 United Kingdom



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Screenshots from Berberian Sound Studio Blu-ray

Berberian Sound Studio Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 13, 2013

“Berberian Sound Studio” is a challenging picture that will be absolute catnip to film fans, especially those with a fondness for the Italian movie industry of the 1970s. Bizarre and tastefully incomprehensible, the effort is reserved for those who enjoy the process of interpretation without much in the way of clues. However impenetrable the work becomes, “Berberian Sound Studio” is a lush, disturbing voyage into a gradual mental breakdown, artfully crafted by director Peter Strickland, who provides magnificent attention to detail and a fixation on an unsettling sense of decay, enhancing the reptilian skin of this enticingly weird feature.

Employed as a sound designer for nature documentaries in England, Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is offered an opportunity to widen his resume with work on a horror picture in Italy. Settling in with ill-tempered producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), mild-mannered Gilderoy is shocked to discover how graphic the movie is, disturbing his tender sensibilities with images of torture and bloodshed. While opportunities to converse with flamboyant director Santini (Antonio Mancino) are limited, Gilderoy befriends one of the actresses, Sylvia (Fatma Mohamed), who shares the sound man’s frustration with the production’s incessant frugality and mistreatment. Laboring over Foley artistry while suffering from homesickness, Gilderoy is having trouble adjusting to his new surroundings. As the days pass and dissatisfactions mount, the aural master finds himself altered by the explicit images he’s forced to work with, feeling madness creep into his system.

The tone of “Berberian Sound Studio” is one of reverence, especially for giallo thrillers mastered by the likes of Dario Argento, whose work receives a hearty tribute in the tightly gloved hand of the projectionist tasked with assembling and introducing fresh reels of work for Gilderoy. Outside of an animated main title sequence, we don’t actually view any footage from Santini’s witchcraft picture (titled “The Equestrian Vortex”), but the atmosphere of screen torment is articulated through the intensity of manufactured sounds that puncture the stillness of the studio. It’s a valentine to an era of unrepentant violence, with Strickland employing genre juiciness to generate a specific feeling of discomfort, an aural illness that comes to rattle Gilderoy in a most unusual manner.

The lead character is a mouse of a man, unable to get anywhere with his requests for plane fare reimbursement (Tonia Sotiropoulou portrays the studio’s receptionist), allowing Francesco to bully him around with work demands. Missing his mother, who sends word of local birds in her increasingly ominous correspondences, Gilderoy is overwhelmed and hesitant -- a perfect recipe for a mental collapse. However, Strickland isn’t building a routine tale of exhaustion, but something a little more ambiguous, attempting to meld the sound man with the movie itself, gradually blurring the line between work and reality, playing around with surreal imagery. Glideroy’s a man who doesn’t even harm a spider in his apartment, imagined as a soft soul who’s forced to watch extreme violence all day, and it’s altering his mind, ushering him into a new reality. The puzzle pieces are persuasive, with distraught actresses, lecherous filmmakers, and grizzled co-workers populating the cramped studio, adding to a budding sense of stress. Actual direction toward a satisfying conclusion is another story, watching the helmer arrange a mystery of perception only to leave all mathematical solutions to the viewer. “Berberian Sound Studio” invests in abstraction but doesn’t provide a worthy map to help navigate much of it.

The highlights of the feature arrive in the daily work of the studio, watching the camera fondle the business of moviemaking and sound design, where Gilderoy chops, stabs, and slams his way through vegetables and fruit to collect gruesome noises. Strickland also makes use of the rotting produce, again reinforcing the ruin of the stranger and his stagnant place in the studio. In fact, “Berberian Sound Studio” is most confident as a recreation of retired filmmaking craftsmanship (it’s beautifully shot and edited), depicting the exhausting routine of the vocation and the unbridled ego of its participants. Strickland pores over notes, plays with sound, and reveals a few tricks of the trade, and it’s riveting material. Voyages into a blurred headspace with heavy interpretational lifting only manage to deflate the viewing experience. Not enough to make it a painful sit, but just enough to question Strickland’s cinematic priorities.

Starring: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino
Director: Peter Strickland

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