With a head-scratcher of a title and an even more head-scratcher of a plot, BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is more of a paean to Italian “Giallo” cinema and though odd, still an engaging experience if you see film more as art than mindless entertainment.
Taking place in Italy in the 1970s, Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a British Sound Engineer who is flown in to handle the sound design of Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) newest masterpiece.
Gilderoy is uncomfortable with the fact that the film is a grisly horror movie as this is not his usual forte but not being strong-willed he is easily bullied by the Producer and staff of the Berberian Sound Studio where the work is being done.
As the work continues on the film, the lines of reality begin to blur and Gilderoy soon becomes unraveled like a spool of magnetic tape.
The first movie that comes to mind in regards to BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, is the recent UNDER THE SKIN (2014). They both have a hypnotic dreamlike feel and even if the plots are thin and almost inconsequential, it is clear that the Directors had singular visions.
Something that really impressed me was the visual style of the film. It is clear from the very beginning that we are in the hands of a talented filmmaker. The camerawork and lighting are really striking with some truly creative scene transitions and the use of sound is magnificent. There are moments when you get lulled into believing that you are hearing the film’s score when in fact it’s a piece of in-movie sound that gets flicked off abruptly as Gilderoy continues his work.
Another point worth mentioning is that, amazingly you NEVER see a single frame of the movie that he is working on. It’s experienced solely through the dialogue being recorded by the movie within a movie actors and sounds he is crafting for it. You get a sense that the movie is somewhat like Dario Argento’s SUSPERIA or Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND and if you are a fan of Italian horror movies, this movie will hold even more fascination for you.
With all this said, you must, you must understand that BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is not for everyone and I really mean that. It may sound (no pun intended) really amazing by my review, but the it is also a very slow burn more concerned with mood than with plot. The first hour is solid but the third Act goes completely off the reservation and will leave many views (including yours truly) really confused and a little unsatisfied.
But as I write this review, I only have fond memories of this film. It’s one to puzzle over, just don’t expect a resolution that will give you closure. If you like Argento, Fulci, David Lynch or David Cronenberg than gives this diamond in the rough a chance. But if you are only concerned with plot than be warned, BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is a unique experience that might leave you mute.