December 23, 2012

Filthy Review - 'Berberian Sound Studio'

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Review by Jude Felton

In 2009 directors Helene Cattat and Bruno Forzani made the quite sublime movie Amer. It was slightly abstract in its execution, but it painted a loving homage to the Italian Giallo movie. The movie probably wasn’t to everyone’s taste, due to its style; however, I thought it was quite superb. I highly recommend you check it out it you get the chance. If I was to pair Amer up with another film for a double-bill, it would be with Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, which stars Toby Jones. Visually it is far removed from Amer’s surreal style, yet it sits perfectly together with it as a wonderful nod to that bygone Italian era.

Set in 1976, Berberian Sound Studio follows Gilderoy (Toby Jones), an English Sound Engineer who travels to Italy to work on a cheap horror film, entitled The Equestrian Vortex. It’s just another job, one on which he thinks will be fairly straightforward, that is until he sees the footage. The Equestrian Vortex is a brutal and horrifying film, which we never see, and is one that sucks Gilderoy into its web. His perception of reality and nightmare begin to blur, and turn his life upside down.

Now, there is no real easy way to describe this film, aside from in very simple terms. Don’t let that fool you though, as Berberian Sound Studio is far from a simple or straightforward movie. It’s one of those films that require as much from the viewer is it offers from the filmmaker. The questions and answers are there for you to interpret, analyze and make of them what you will.

Straight from the opening bombast of Broadcast’s hypnotic assault of The Equestrian Vortex’s theme, this film plays with the viewer. Whereas in many of the Italian films of yore the visuals were the primary concern, with their bright colors and extreme close-ups etc. Strickland instead takes the aural approach. Sure, the film does look terrific, and the cinematography is superb, but this is one of the few films I have seen that would work just as well with purely an audio track. The sound design in this film is just perfect, from start to finish, conjuring up the visuals that we aren’t privy to, forcing us to interpret what we think is happening. It really is a quite hallucinatory trip, and one that I highly recommend you take.

The lynchpin of Berberian Sound Studio is the lead performance from Toby Jones. A veteran of such films as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Captain America, he is on absolute fire here, portraying as he does a duck out of water, even though he is in familiar territory. He is, without doubt, quite superb here. The use of Italian, as well as English, only adds to Gilderoy’s sense of isolation and confusion, along with his very stiff English persona.

If I had to find a fault with the film though, it would be that the ending, whilst not terrible, did come along rather abruptly. This left me wanting a little more, not necessarily answers, but a little more expansion to the nightmare world that we had just visited. It’s only a small irritation as up until then I could not find fault with the film, as I really thought it was that good.

Visually Berberian Sound Studio is a pleasure to watch. Aurally, the film is a masterpiece. Sounds we might have become accustomed to, whether it be in film or real life, are given an extra sense of foreboding and horror here. This, coupled, with Broadcast’s soundtrack combines to make it an audio wonder, which is just beautiful.

Berberian Sound Studio is not going to be to everyone’s liking, as was also the case with Amer, but those that are looking for something a little different from the norm should definitely check out this 90 minute head trip.

Berberian Sound Studio is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Artificial Eye on December 31st.

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