There Are Whole New Worlds Inside "Berberian Sound Studio" Review

The new world of sound awaits you.

Some movies are born strange, some achieve strangeness, and some have strangeness thrust upon them. Berberian Sound Studio (2013) is a pretty strange film. Writer-director Peter Strickland tells the story with a loose grip on chronology. Sometimes scenes are replayed with different languages, they shift seamlessly into and out of the studio without explanation, and much of the time it isn’t clear if what we see is actually happening. There’s a line to be crossed in the “mind-bending” genre where the film keeps bending until your mind snaps in half. Berberian Sound Studio’s pace is such that my shapely brain was slowly bent into a pretzel without ultimately breaking apart. It isn’t in a tight knot where I can see how it all ties together, but it’s pretty enough as it is that I can fully recommend the experience.

Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is an English sound engineer, usually producing nature films, who travels to Italy to mix a horror film. This is Italy, so the natives are strange and because they work in film, they’re also a manipulative breed. Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) is the producer who runs the process like a fascist who only blanches at the director Santini (Antonio Mancino) or Fabio (Salvatore LI Causi), the son of another famous director. The film is a grotesque one, as were horror films in the 1970’s, with terrible exploitation scenes cloaked in the guise of historical honesty. Gilderoy has trouble coping. He’s a true sound artist, so stabbing cabbage with the vigor and intensity of one stabbing the lady on screen, if dealt with honestly, is bound to disturb. And disturbed Gilderoy becomes.

Did you ever see Blow Out (1981)? This is a lot like Blow Out, sharing a central problem in capturing the sound of a truly terrifying scream. As in that film, the source of that scream is treated without much sympathy in the plot (not in ‘real life’). But while Blow Out used sound as Hitchcock may have done to enhance the plot and draw in the viewer (or listener), Berberian Sound Studio uses sound to warp your perceptions. The visuals are similarly employed in a way that, at first, seemed too sumptuous and interesting for a movie about sound. It’s a strange resentment and one I dropped quickly as the beautiful, clean images became increasingly gross and confusing. Had I watched this film at a different time of the day, it might have been annoying--especially at the ending. But in the afternoon, patience at its highest level, I enjoyed the brain massage. Like most massages, it was uncomfortable in places, but Toby Jones’s sympathetic put-upon Englishman was a fine balm.

Bonus features

Behind the Scenes, Box HIll Documentary, Deleted, Extended, and Alternate Scenes, a Photo Gallery (with Commentary), an Alternate Poster Gallery, and a trailer.

"Berberian Sound Studio" is on sale December 10, 2013 and is not rated. Drama. Written and directed by Peter Strickland. Starring Cosimo Fusco, Toby Jones.

Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.


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