Film: Berberian Sound Studio, Dir. Peter Strickland #midweekfilmclub 23

Much hyped and vaunted, the latest Brit-flick to have critics raving is Strickland’s sonic salutation; a disturbing glimpse into the pre-digital era of film making and specifically into sound effects.

Toby Jones, playing Gilderoy a middle-aged, Mummy’s boy, sound-engineer arrives at the eponymous Italian studio, and is promptly put in his place as he bumbles, “Erm, do.. you… speak…” but before he can splutter out “…INN-GLISH”, the bellissimo receptionist (Tonia Sotiropoulou) cuts him off, “No”.  It brought a laugh from the audience and although this is a dark film throughout, it is flecked with some black humour too, centred mainly around the language barrier and the absurdity of trying to create the sound of a witch falling from a window, by throwing marrows to the ground.

Gilderoy soon realises that the film isn’t quite the same as the anodyne documentaries and regional news type work he’s been up to in Blighty (a nod to which comes later in the film when Box Hill, made famous on day 1 of the 2012 Olympics, is the focus of his work).  Now he’s demolishing vegetables in every way imaginable to create a myriad of horror sound effects; melons get hacheted, as a young lady’s hacked to death, radish stems are torn to symbolise a witches hair being ripped from her scalp, tomatoes are blended to messy effect whilst  recreating a chainsaw, cabbage leaves being splashed around in a fish tank as a witch drowns… the list goes on.

Couple this with the misogynistic approach of the film’s director, Santini (Antonio Mancino), to the female stars that homely Gilderoy hates and the excessive demands of producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) and soon our homesick lead is starting to buckle under the pressures of the project.

The film is characterised by continuous segues from scene to scene through fades and clever lens work, but it’s the sound that is front and centre here as, given the focus of the film, it should be.  It does get a bit grating after a while though and alongside an unnecessary extra 15mins that added nothing, from what would have been a great ending, the film eventually culminated with the audience audibly giving their thoughts, “what the…. !”

Which is a shame.  Of course.  Strickland’s film is intentionally outlandish, but he did himself no favours here.

Anyway, to say much more would be to spoil the flip-points of the film and I wouldn’t want to do that, as they’re definitely worth enjoying first-hand.

7/10 – Berberian Sound Studio, is a disturbing and at times funny watch, with a strong performance from Toby Jones and sterling sound work from the two dozen or so engineers involved.  It’s a really interesting insight into pre-digital film making and what a nause it must’ve been too.

2 responses to “Film: Berberian Sound Studio, Dir. Peter Strickland #midweekfilmclub 23”

  1. Agree with almost everything in this review, but not the criticism of the last fifteen minutes. Though the sound does grate after a while, I think this is Strickland’s intention – to draw the audience to their physical and mental limit, give them an (almost) acceptable conclusion, and then snatch it from them by attaching a sequence that, in your words, adds nothing. I think he wants the audience to go “What the…!” and I commend him for having the daring to do so. Anyway, a very good review and a blog I shall be returning to.


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