BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO

7 out of 10

Release Date: 31st August 2012

Director: Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy / Katalin Varga)

Cast: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Susanna Cappellero, Fatma Mohamed, Chiara D’Anna, Tonia Sotiropoulo and Antonio Mancino 

Writer: Peter Strickland

Trailer: BERBARIAN SOUND STUDIO

Our HALIFAX based correspondent Joe Pesci II got to see this quasi Italo-Brit flick. His review is below!

Here’s something off the beaten track. Berberian Sound Studio is that rare thing – an original. Whether that originality adds up to anything is up to each viewer, and I confess that I am still (over a week later) in several minds about its merits. But that it is still in my mind over a week later suggests that it at least has the merit of staying in the mind, whilst all manner of other dross thankfully vaporises beyond memory. Toby Jones (RED LIGHTS) is a meekly mild-mannered British sound engineer who rather improbably finds himself working in the titular building on a film made by the great Santini at some point in the 1970s. Beyond that I can report nothing accurately as this is one of those films where reality and illusion interact and leave each other for dead. (I’m not even sure if what I’ve already said is strictly accurate.) We watch Jones as he goes about his trade, preparing the soundtrack for the film-within-a-film which we never see: The Equestrian Vortex (apart from the title sequence which gloriously parodies seventies low-budget horror genres). The film is clearly one of those earnest semi-pornographic efforts, a cross between Caligula, Witch-Finder General, Blood On Satan’s Claw and (I guess) the work of Dario Argento. It clearly deeply unsettles Jones, and assurances from his suave Italian employers (‘It is not a horror film! It is a Santini film!’ ‘I have to show the truth!’ claims the director as pokers are merrily plunged into vaginas in order to prove witchcraft or devil-worship) do nothing to assuage him. Meanwhile, Jones quietly matches sound to image, which generally seems to involve assorted fruit and vegetables being splattered and chopped with ritualistic reverence. Jones has no idea why he has been chosen for the project, previous experiences clearly being BBC children’s shows and documentaries, and nor do any of his new colleagues. Letters from home provide no respite, and throughout there are clues as to darker disturbances. Everything about the film (I mean Berberian Sound Studio) is vaguely improbable (by contrast The Equestrian Vortex seems a very straightforward affair). That the director is referred to as the great Santini, that the great Santini needs the help of this fish out of water, the glamour of the receptionist, the leering sexism of the producer (well, maybe that’s accurate), the representation of Italians as stereotypical latin lovers and lazy workers; all these elements (and many more) combine to create a world which is unlikely, claustrophobic, impossible, weird, Kafka-esque, baroque and grotesque. How much of what we see is real is a matter for endless debate and re-viewings, the point being to question what film is for. Do we really want to see ‘the truth’ whatever that may be? If so, do we really need it filtered through so many processes of scripting, acting, editing, adding sound and music and dialogue and screaming? Why do we watch films? Why do we need stories?

There is only one recurring plot point – will Jones be reimbursed for his air fare? But even this hardly thrilling question also disintegrates as it recurs, leading Jones and the viewer deeper and deeper into the nightmare. When the film literally falls apart and we suddenly see some of Jones’ previous work (from a documentary about Leith Hill) it seems to be a moment of escape, but only briefly, as even this footage is drab and lifeless, and just as trapped as everything else. The final half of the film, where narrative dries up and sequences repeat, career off into unexpected and irrelevant directions, where language changes, and lines are repeated in different contexts, suggests either a film which doesn’t know where it’s going, or a film which needs to be viewed several (or numerous) times. It’s undeniably a mess, but it is a rather good one, with no easy answers, lots of questions (some of them pointless), and an atmosphere which is always threatening and a bit unhinged. If you want a story well told, do not see this film. If on the other hand you want something to puzzle over, be infuriated and entertained and confused by, then this is just the film for you.

7 out of 10

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

  • Toby Jones: Alice In Wonderland 2 (voice), Dad’s Army, Serena, Hunger Games – Mockingjay 2, By The Gun, Marvellous,Muppets Most Wanted, Captain American 2, Snow White & The Huntsman, The Hunger Games, Red Lights, Tintin (voice), My Week With Marilyn, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows- part 1 (voice), Captain America, Your Highness, The Rite, Sex Drugs and Rock N’ Roll, St Trinians 2, Nightwatching, Creation, W., Frost / Nixon, City Of Ember, St Trinians, The Mist, The Painted Veil, Infamous, Mrs Henderson Presents, Finding Neverland, Ladies In Lavender, Harry Potter & The Chambers Of Secrets, Simon Magus
  • Fatma Mohamed: The Duke of Burgundy
  • Tonia Sotiropoulo: Brotherhood
  • Chiara D’Anna: Native, The Duke of Burgundy
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