There has been a definite buzz surrounding the release of writer and director Peter Strickland’s second feature. Berberian Sound Studio seemingly promises a package of sensual delights for audiences, complimented with small-budget charm and a style that presses conventions. So does it live up to the hype?
It’s the early seventies; we follow Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a British sound engineer who has been flown across Europe by an Italian director Santini (Antonio Mancino) to work on his latest film. What he doesn’t know is that the piece at hand is a far cry from the children’s shows he is used to. Instead, he is hacking away at lettuces, and dripping oil onto pans to help create the horror and gore that encapsulates Santini’s vision. Struggling with aggressive producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), various unhinged actors, and apathetic members of staff, Gilderoy battles language and cultural barriers, as he slowly begins to lose touch with reality.
Sound is often the forgotten aspect that helps to create the expectations we seek of modern films; it’s often said that if the audience overlooks music and sounds of the movie, the job has been well done. Berberian Sound Studio certainly carries an underlying theme of homage to these fine creators – there is a very tongue-in-cheek feel at moments so that it almost feels as if the audience is being told ‘See? See how we can manipulate you?’ The imagery and colouring sets the tone of period well, and there are some truly beautiful shots throughout.
Jones is respectable as the passive Gilderoy, sitting comfortably in the character’s unease, but the ones who give the film it’s grounding is the supporting cast. Playing up the era – and the cultural divide – they complement Jones’ bleakness and descent into madness perfectly, with a dramatic flair that is almost comical.
Unfortunately, the film takes a disastrous dive just at the finish line. Reaching a beautiful pinnacle, one that would have been perfect to end on. The audience members are suddenly allowed to let out their collectively held breaths, and take in the last 70 minutes – but no. This is not the ending to be, unfortunately, and the next twenty makes the film feel as if it extends another unnecessary hour. A vast majority of the scenes used in this last section could easily have fitted into the story to help the climax gain even more momentum. Instead leave the film is left ending on a much flatter note. It is clearly supposed to illustrate Gilderoy’s complete detachment from reality, but the point was really dragged out
Overall, Berberian Sound Studio is truly a commendable effort as a second feature from Strickland, and will place him as a person of interest for future endeavors. The ending may have placed a significant dampener on the piece as a whole, but it is certainly still worth a watch.
Review by Rosanagh Griffiths
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