Berberian Sound Studio
berberian sound studio | peter strickland | toby jones | antonio mancino | guido adorni | drama | thriller | united kingdom | germany | australia | cosimo fusco | fatma mohamed | salvatore li causi | chiara d'anna | suzy kendall | tonia sotiropoulou | eugenia caruso
Film: Berberian Sound Studio
Director: Peter Strickland
Writer: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino and Guido Adorni
This is a movie that I don’t recall coming out. It would have been when I was working at Family Video, but it also seems like a movie that took a bit too long to actually get a physical release here in the United States. Regardless, this is one that I heard about through podcasts, it went on a list to see and now I did as part of the Summer Series for the Podcast Under the Stairs. The synopsis is a sound engineer’s work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art.
We are following Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he is entering work. As the synopsis stated, he is employed to do sound engineering for a violent giallo film of The Equestrian Vortex. This is taking place in Italy at Berberian Sound Studio. We do get to see the opening credits for this fake movie and much like others I’ve heard, I want this to be made as it seems like a violent, bloody, Suspiria-like giallo.
Gilderoy seems nervous and I think part of this is that he is in a country he’s never been. He feels out of place. Part of this comes from the receptionist, Elena (Tonia Sotriopoulou). He asks her about handling the receipt for his flight so it can be reimbursed, she tells him she doesn’t speak English and she cannot help him. He is then greeted by Francesco Coraggio (Cosimo Fusco) who is a producer on the film. Much like Elena, he ignores helping for the reimbursement, stating that it will be taken care of.
From here we get to see Gilderoy and what sound engineers do. He works with the director a bit of Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino). There are actresses of Silvia (Fatma Mohamed), Elisa (Chiara D’Anna) and Claudia (Eugenia Caruso) who he must record to dub them over. There is Fabio (Salvatore LI Causi) who works in this studio. There are also the great Massimo (Jozef Cseres) and Massimo (Pal Toth) that handle the more gross sound effects.
Gilderoy doesn’t like horror films and doesn’t feel comfortable working on this one. Santini doesn’t think he is making a horror film. Francesco can also be quite rude and pushy. Gilderoy slowly descends into madness as he works on this film and much like the synopsis states, could lose himself completely in his work.
Now I think that is where I’ll leave the recap for this movie. Where I want to start is I’ve heard some people thinking that nothing happens here. I can see that argument, because in the grand scheme, they are right. We are seeing these people put the sound together for this movie. What I also find interesting is what Duncan from over on TPUTS Collective for Opera Omenia as him and his guest of Richard as they covered the movies of Peter Strickland, the writer/director of this movie. I bring up what they said about this man behind this, because he made a giallo feeling film without making a giallo.
To get back to a statement that was brought up about nothing happening, technically that is true. We are seeing Gilderoy along with those working around him as they get this movie ready. We are getting to know the characters and seeing how their interactions have consequences. Santini hires one of the actresses because he wants to fool around with her. This ends badly as you can imagine. All these characters pull Gilderoy in different ways. Francesco is hard on Gilderoy and questions him. This makes him depressed. The Massimos make him uncomfortable. He finds solace with one of the actresses, the same one that Santini is using, but she isn’t good at what she is doing according to Francesco. This all wears on Gilderoy as he sinks into madness. That is where the tension for this movie builds. It is also how he loses himself.
I’m not going to go into spoilers, but I want to delve a bit into him losing himself. There is this wild turn where we see something scary happening to Gilderoy. It might be part of the movie. That makes you wonder what is real and what isn’t. It made me think is this like Inception. We have a movie within the movie, but is Gilderoy not a scared sound engineer? Is he in the movie that he is working on? The movie is vague on explaining, but I like that we can decide. It is also wild seeing the meek man he is in the start to the Italian speaking version at the end.
Now I think that is enough for the story, so I’ll go next to the sound design, since that is a major part of this movie. I was talking to Jaime about the movie and we both realized that we had no idea how they would do the sound effects for films. It took seeing this to realize that they would find things that would simulate. We get like the Massimos going crazy on watermelons with knives to make it seem like someone is being stabbed. Peaking behind the curtain adds a layer here. The music used is also giallo-like which I can appreciate. Also on the podcast episode, this movie does an excellent job with not having music when you expect it. This makes things even more unnerving for me. This is one of the strongest parts of the movie for sure.
Another strong part is the acting. I’m a fan of Jones. He has a distinct look about him, but he brings such a strong performance in everything I see. I love the meek and nervous guy we see in the beginning to where he ends up in the end. Fusco as Francesco makes me uncomfortable. Not in a bad way. I don’t like confrontation and the things he says to Gilderoy make me feel awkward in the best way. He’s my second favorite performance. Aside from that I’d say that Mancino, Mohamed, D’Anna and the rest of the cast rounded this out to direct our lead to where he ends up.
Then the last thing to go over will be brief. The cinematography is interesting here. We don’t get to see anything. We hear the sounds and hear what the actors/actresses are saying. It is vivid enough though where I can fill in what is being shown and I like that. The lighting here is very giallo-esque as well. It feels like Strickland knows what he is doing and I was impressed. There isn’t anything here in the way of effects except that it feels like we are in the 1970s.
So then in conclusion, this movie isn’t for everyone. I knew that coming in. We are getting the atmosphere and look of a giallo without getting that type of movie. I think that the performance from Jones is excellent as he descends into madness with what he is doing. The rest of the cast helps to direct him there. The cinematography is on point and the sound design/track is as well. After this initial viewing, I have this as a good movie. Now that I know what we are getting here, it will be interesting to revisit.
My Rating: 8 out of 10