Berberian Sound Studio

Art & Culture

This is one of those films which I would love to give a positive review to – and feel that I should – but I cannot in all honesty say it's a film I recommend. It's definitely worth watching, but whether it's any good or not is a question I don't know how to answer.

It all starts very promisingly. Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives in Rome to work on an Italian giallo (aka horror) movie for legendary director Fabio Santini. The film, called The Equestrian Vortex, has been shot, and Gilderoy has been summoned to add the sound effects to the hideous combination of sex and violence that he (but not we) see on the screen. Its not quite clear why Gilderoy has been summoned for this job. He can't speak Italian and has no previous experience of this kind of film. In fact he seems rather shocked and daunted by the whole project. The producer is brusque and bossy, the secretary is beautiful but rude, the women who are doing the screaming are glamorous but odd, and the director is mostly friendly, except when he doesn't get his way.
Occasionally Gilderoy gets letters from his mum in the Home Counties, telling him what's happening with the birds – a subject he seems more expert in than slasher movies. His main job is mutilating vegetables in the cause of producing credible sound effects. It seems that a watermelon hit hard with a big knife sounds just like human flesh being assaulted. Which is useful to know, I suppose, but clearly the sight of human flesh being assaulted contributes to the unravelling of Gilderoy's psyche, which is where we reach the point in the film where I lost touch with the director's intentions.
I'm fine with the disintegration of our hero, but I would have liked to know a little more about the how and why, and also some clarity on the red herrings that have been slipped in earlier. There's a fine line between ambiguity and downright confusion, and for me, Peter Strickland's film falls on the wrong side of the line. I'm happy to accept that I may have missed something, or that I lack the subtle antennae to gather what was going on – and please let me know if you can come up with a plausible explanation. But until then, I have to register myself as only partly satisfied.

By Phil Raby

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