TIFF 2012: ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ – the sounds between fantasy and reality
Berberian Sound Studio
Directed by Peter Strickland
Screenplay by Peter Strickland
British filmmaker Peter Strickland’s sophomore effort is many things: a sly deconstruction of 1970s hallucinatory Grand Guignol cinema – an audio geek’s wet dream celebrating the art of foley magic – a stylistic tour de force and a blend of comedy, drama and horror with a Lynchian twist.
Strickland’s meta-horror film begins as dream, before spiralling into a nightmare of sorts. Set entirely in the offices of a sleazy Italian film company in the 1970s, a British sound technician, played to perfection by Toby Jones, travels to Italy to work on the sound effects for a gruesome blood-soaked giallo film called The Equestrian Vortex. His nightmarish task slowly takes over his psyche as Gilderoy is unable to distinguish between the perverse fantasies of the film he is working on and so-called reality.
Disinterested in the typical conventions of a horror narrative, Strickland lets our own imaginations do much of the heavy lifting, if not all the work. As such, it offers something that is rare in cinema. In a tribute to the world of the Foley artist, this psychological thriller argues that, in filmmaking, sound design is just as important as anything else. Apart from the gonzo title sequence of the film within the film that reads ‘Silenzio’(think Mulholland Drive), Strickland never shows us what Gilderoy sees, but we watch how the images he witnesses affects him. What we do see or at least imagine, is all of through the point of view of Gileroy’s eyes, and everything else in what we hear. In other words Berberian Sound Studio benefits substantially from the ongoing emphasis of the sounds of the unseen horror film. And we hear plenty! The effect is nothing short of genius. Senses kick into overdrive, ominous sounds fade in and out, and the mix of visuals and sounds begin to cross over from the studio into Gilderoy’s mind, and the lines between reality and the subconscious become blurred. It’s all open to interpretation and there is a lot to interpret.