Berberian Sound Studio
Reviewed by Andy
Sometimes it’s possible to have an experience so surreal and lacking in sense that you have to be awake, as even the most fervid of dreams couldn’t quite match up. Berberian Sound Studio is one of those experiences, and after mulling on it considerably I still don’t have the faintest of clues what was really actually going on!
It is somehow fitting, then, that the cast is led by Dream Lord himself Toby Jones as sound engineer Gilderoy, who heads to Italy to work on movie The Equestrian Vortex for auteur director Santini (Antonio Mancini). Initially, the film seems like a fairly traditional “Englishman abroad” tale, with Gilderoy challenged by language, new colleages, getting back flight expenses and the gradual realisation that The Equestrian Vortex is even further from the nature documentaries he is used to working on…
It’s part of the film’s setup to focus on sound – from the direct effects work that Gilderoy does like “stabbing” watermelons, to the way that other than a funky credits sequence we only hear any elements of The Equestrian Vortex – and the audio is fantastically layered and immersive. It looks stunning too, from the use of colour to the focus on Toby Jones whose always-interesting and expressive features draw the eye even when the shot is just of him sitting still.
As the movie continues, so the surrealism starts to set in – subtly as first, but increasingly so as it reflects the deterioration of Gilderoy’s state of mind. There are times when it feels like minor changes could help greatly though; for example, in the really useful Q&A that followed, director Peter Strickland described some inspiration as the way films in the 70s could get reels from different sources spliced together so everything from quality to even language of soundtrack and presence/language of subtitles could change from reel to reel. So including a “cigarette burn” to indicate that there would be a reel change as you would have had in those films would give a handy visual note to the viewer on rewatching.
While I can’t honestly say I completely understand the entire of Berberian Sound Studio, it’s definitely a unique audio-visual experience that while suffering from overhype is still worth watching for Toby Jones and the view into how many sound effects are made. Hopefully there will be a Grindhouse/Machete effect following as from the snippets involved, The Equestrian Vortex could be an excellent retro horror! ***