`Berberian Sound Studio' is set in 1970′s Rome, Italy. The studio is working on a new film called `The Equestrian Vortex'. The films director Santini (Antonio Mancino) hires Gilderoy (Toby Jones), an English sound engineer who had previously worked on children's television programmes and natural history documentaries.
Gilderoy assumes that the Italian film was about horses, but when he is greeted by the films producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) he discovers that the film is actually a horror movie. With typically English stiff upper lip, Gilderoy dives into an environment completely alien to him. Clearly out of his depth, he's further unnerved by working in a new country with no grasp of Italian. Gilderoy is manipulated by everyone, from the utterly serious Francesco to the lecherous Santini, and even by the moody secretary Elena (Tonia Sotiropoulou).
But Gilderoy knows one thing very well, and that is sound. At the mixing desk, he reigns supreme. He watches over and controls the voices of the actresses Claudia (Eugenia Caruso) and Elisa (Chiara D'Anna) who provide the dialogue and countless screams; the assistants who simulate the violence on screen by slashing and whacking all manner of fruit and vegetables; and creating many of the sounds himself from his own vast repertoire. You appreciate the sound engineers craft from Gilderoy's numerous charts, his maps of how sounds and effects will be layed over the visuals.
Gilderoy clearly relishes his new environment, but equally appalled by it. The uncomfortable subject matter inevitably proves too much for this mild mannered sound engineer, a scene involving a red hot poker and a nun providing the psychological catalyst to his own breakdown. Fantasy bleeds into reality, sounds and dreams blur into each other to form a paranoid nightmare.
`Berberian sound studio' is a very clever film, the workings of a films production is focused through the ears and eyes of a sound engineer. Much of the film is quietly dark and darkly comical, you won't tire of listening to watermelons being slashed and twisted and radish's snapped, or watching actors making peculiar facial expressions to make even stranger noises. The claustrophobia of working and sleeping in the studio brilliantly feeds into Gilderoys state of mind, the ever dependable Jones giving yet another fine performance.
Sound is at the heart of the film, from its production to recording and mixing. Gilderoy harks back to a golden age in British television and film with the the pioneering special effects works of Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram et al for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Their sound experiments helped to shape modern electronic music and are still revered by musicians, its a fitting tribute to see their experiments' influence in this film.
The opening sequence which introduces you to the `The Equestrian Vortex' is one of the most startling opening scenes i've ever seen, a superb amalgam of sound and visuals. You never get to see any of the actual horror film, but you still feel you are watching it through listening to the dialogue and sound effects of the production. Its a clever manipulation, further still by seeing the violence within the horror film through Gilderoys eyes.
Director Peter Strickland doesn't just concentrate on the analogue sound of the 70′s but pays a great homage to many films of the time, not least the Italian Giallo films which `The Equestrian Vortex' is based upon and made famous by the likes of Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. With so many sound and visual markers, so much attention to detail, its quite amazing that you are never overwhelmed by this film. Such is Stricklands skill, he even gets the name of a fictional film right, `The Equestrian Vortex' is a fantastic name for any film. I could go on and on, there is so much to admire in `Berberian Sound Studio', I can't wait to see it again.
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