Alexander Gordon Smith

Archive for the Category Film Review


Film Review: Berberian Sound Studio

It definitely has my favourite movie poster of the year!

I’ve been looking forward to this film ever since I watched the impressive trailer a few months back. I’m a huge Giallo fan, and this promised to be a fascinating, sinister, unsettling story set in the world of Italian horror cinema back in its golden days in the 1970s. I really, really, really wanted to enjoy this…

And in some ways I did. The story follows Gilderoy (played superbly by Toby Jones), a timid English analogue engineer who travels to Italy to work his auditory magic on a gory horror movie. And it starts brilliantly as he brutally assaults a number of vegetables in order to create the right sound effects (a brilliant insight into the work of foley artists). Marrows dropped onto the floor simulate somebody falling from a great height, knives are stabbed into cabbages, and radish stalks are ripped free in a convincing echo of somebody having their hair torn out.

The director, Peter Strickland, does a fantastic job of creating a claustrophobic and alien atmosphere. The people Gilderoy meets are increasingly hostile and unknowable. The whole film takes place inside the almost hermitically sealed studio where Gilderoy works, and inside his living quarters – two sets that are cleverly blurred into one another so we do not always know which is which. It is confusing at times, and that’s the point, because gradually, as Gilderoy works on this film (the only part of which we see are the awesome opening credits), he gradually begins to lose his mind – because by creating the sound effects for the crimes on screen, the artist begins to feel responsible for them. He becomes a complicit cog inside the nightmare factory.

It’s a very clever piece of filmmaking, with Gilderoy’s descent into madness captured perfectly in the breakdown of the film. His life, and the world of the movie he is working on, and even the film that we ourselves are watching, begin to overlap. I won’t say how, because the best parts of BSS are the surprising and innovative ways that Strickland causes the narrative to disintegrate and bubble up. And it’s fascinating how Gilderoy tries to remain in control. I think my favourite scene in the movie is when, in the midst of one frightening incident, Gilderoy moves towards his sound recorder as if he can simply switch it off and make things normal again. It is how he keeps his world under control, how he orders his life. It’s a brilliant piece of acting.

Despite all of this, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I can’t really put a finger on why, other than the fact that after the film had finished I didn’t feel the slightest bit emotionally attached to it. I was expecting the same feelings of unease that you get from a David Lynch film, the uncomfortable gut-tickling fear you have when you see a piece of cinema that truly rocks your understanding of the world. And I just didn’t feel it. For me, Gilderoy’s deterioration happened too quickly, there wasn’t enough of a narrative there, there was no real character development. Strickland, too, was maybe just a little too clever – I felt as if he had a whole heap of amazing ideas but blew them all too quickly. There was almost too much going on to fully appreciate each one. When the film finished – quite abruptly, I should say – my overriding feeling was that I had just watched another trailer for it. It left me hungry to watch a full, complete film.

Saying that, Lynsey loved it, and she has a much more eclectic, arty-farty taste in cinema than I do, so I think part of the problem is that I just wasn’t patient and clever enough to enjoy it for what it was. As Lynsey told me last night, a film doesn’t always have to make sense as a traditional narrative in order to work. And she’s right. If this had been a more conventional horror film then it probably would have been poo and I’d be moaning about the fact the director didn’t do something original with it. I guess there’s just no pleasing some people! There’s absolutely no doubt that it’s an impressive film, and that Peter Strickland is a wonderful filmmaker. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next!