SF IndieFest 2013
By Don Simpson | February 5, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Writer: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Cosimo Fusco, Susanna Cappellaro, Layla Amir, Chiara D’Anna, Eugenia Caruso, Antonio Mancino, Lara Parmiani, Fatma Mohamed, Katalin Ladik, Guido Adorni, Jean-Michael van Schouwburg, Jozef Cseres, Pal Toth, Ted Tomlin, Salvatore LI Causi
An extremely shy Englishman, Gilderoy (Toby Jones) has just arrived in Italy to essentially become a one-man sound team for The Equestrian Vortex, the latest film by Italian giallo maestro Santini (Antonio Mancino). Up until now, Gilderoy has only worked on English documentaries and children’s programs; so Gilderoy approaches his surreal new position like a frightened mouse (an analogy that is visually hinted upon by the juxtaposition of Toby Jones’ height with his taller Italian counterparts). A foreigner in many senses of the word, Gilderoy’s naivete is showcased by his lack of understanding of the Italian language as well as his obliviousness to the cinematic language of the giallo genre. What Gilderoy does understand is sound recording, so as long as the perpetually angry Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) agrees to speak English to him, Gilderoy can timidly proceed with the task at hand. From here on out, Gilderoy devotes everything to his work in a fruitless attempt to forget about his homesickness.
As time wears on, Gilderoy’s constant exposure to extreme cinematic violence gnaws away at his psyche until he becomes fully immersed in the graphic images of the film. Berberian Sound Studio writer-director Peter Strickland cleverly ensures that we never see a single frame from The Equestrian Vortex — other than the masterful title sequence designed by Julian House; we only ever hear brief audio descriptions of the on-screen scenarios and the over-dubbed dialogue and Foley sounds. This is a purposeful, and effective, statement by Strickland to stress the significance of sound in the giallo genre. With all of the sound recorded in post-production, this creates a very literal disconnection between the sound and image, allowing each to serve drastically different intentions. The images are to be sexy-yet-shocking; the sounds are to be frightening. The deconstruction of the signature giallo sounds is what Strickland cares about the most. For example, in a few absurdly comedic asides, Strickland shows Foley artists re-creating the spine-tingling sounds of stabs, slashes, squashes and splats with a produce market’s variety of fruit and vegetables. (Oh, yes, Gallagher would most certainly be proud of these sound artisans!)
While the confoundingly subdued Berberian Sound Studio refuses to deliver much in the way of thrills or chills, it does offer a very poignant critique of the Italian giallo film industry. This is a film about the exploitation of actors and crew — by directors and producers who wholeheartedly believe that the privilege of working on such fine pieces of cinematic art legitimize their sexual (and psychological) harassment — as well as the stingy bureaucracy of low budget film productions. Strickland’s film also embellishes upon the cultural and societal differences between machismo Italian men and navel-gazing Englishmen, because nobody else accepts this potent brand of psychological torture like a stuffy Englishman.
Last, but certainly not least, Berberian Sound Studio gives James Cargill (Broadcast) a chance to masterfully re-create a giallo-esque soundtrack that would make Goblin green with envy.