Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

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"No love, the mic's over here."
“No love, the mic’s over here.”

Twitter Plot Summary: Work on an Italian horror film has an effect on the mental health of sheltered sound effects creator Toby Jones.

Genre: Drama/Horror/Thriller

Director: Peter Strickland

Key Cast: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino, Fatma Mohamed, Chiara D’Anna, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Eufenia Caruso, Susanna Cappellaro, Lara Parmiani

Five Point Summary:

1. An Englishman abroad. An odd looking one at that.
2. So… he still lives with his mum/parents?
3. Recurring spider theme and recurring mouldy vegetables…
4. Now that’s a lot of unspooled tape!
5. It’s all gone a bit meta. How peculiar.

There have been many a film made about the process of making movies, some of which dramatise actual events whilst others create a fictional account of the process. Berberian Sound Studio is in the latter camp, as Toby Jones’ very British sound effects chap Gilderoy, very much an outsider in every sense of the word, heads over to Italy to record foley/sound effects for an Italian horror flick –  and it is a horror flick, don’t pay attention to what they say in the film. Horror isn’t a dirty word.  Gilderoy is a middle aged man, living at home with his parents (or at the very least his mum. Apparently.), and is a stranger in a strange land, equal parts bemused and determined to do the job well.

Gradually we get hints that all is not well in Gilderoy’s world. As he completes more work on the film’s sound effects the line begins to blur between reality and the film he’s dubbing. It’s primarily psychological though, so don’t expect lashings of 70s horror because if that’s what you expect then this isn’t the film for you. What works incredibly well is the subtle transition that plays out in Gilderoy by the film’s end, appearing in a horror movie of his own creation, aided by a subtle and nuanced performance from Toby Jones.

Gilderoy didn't know what to make of this new "heavy metal" music.
Gilderoy didn’t know what to make of this new “heavy metal” music.

For a film thats main focus is the creation of sound effects for another movie, the sound design is thankfully excellent. This is a relief, because otherwise it would be a much harder film to appreciate.  It might also ruin the magic of cinema for people not interested in the behind the scenes process, so I certainly can’t recommend it on that front. It’s also tricky to recommend if you see no entertainment value in watching actors dub a film or foley artists chop up melons in a studio, but for everybody else it’s a clear love letter to the process of sound design and the film making process in general. There’s a clear route into the film for fans of Italian horror movies as well, playing up every trope and established stereotype that the genre has to offer. Witches, screaming women, violence, blood, and a plot that doesn’t make much logical sense. For those looking for subtext, the plot of the Italian film within the film has echoes of Gilderoy’s time spent editing it.

Strickland’s direction has a slow and deliberate pace, gently panning across actor’s faces and sound effect breakdown sheets, which sounds boring on paper but is actually well presented in reality. Despite the relatively plain setting, albeit heavy on the 70s brown/orange decor, this languid style generates a sense of otherworldliness, emphasised to an extent by the constant repetition of certain visual motifs – the spiders, the mouldy vegetables, the frequent pans across and away from the red “Silenzio” recording sign.

Of course, the real point to take into consideration is that softly spoken, sheltered Englishmen should not be foley artists on Italian horror films – no good will come of it.

Favourite scene: *spoilers…* The film breaks and everything goes a bit meta and a tiny bit weird.

Quote: “Be careful of that girl – there’s poison in those tits of hers.”

Silly Moment:  Toby Jones trying to be angry. And it doesn’t really work.

Score: 4/5

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