Berberian Sound Studio

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Berberian Sound Studio

How do you measure success in cinema? ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ is a stylistically ambitious, morally radical, thematically complex work. There are scenes, sensations and (especially) sounds here that feel altogether new, strange and exciting. So if the film doesn’t quite scale the lofty peaks that writer-director Peter Strickland has set his sights on, it’s easy to forgive. It’s always better to aim high and fall short.

Toby Jones hits a career best as Gilderoy, an English sound recordist who, in the early 1970s, arrives at an Italian recording studio to work on the Foley track of a groundbreaking new horror picture. A buttoned-down mother’s boy who works in his garden shed, Gilderoy is unprepared for the graphic scenes of torture he’s forced to witness. The intensity of the project, coupled with a deep longing for home, begins to play havoc with his mental state.‘Berberian Sound Studio’ is, at heart, a cine-literate horror film, despite its complete lack of on-screen violence. Strickland uses his set-up as a way to explore horror and the effect it can have on a sensitive soul, with particular focus on the sudden explosion of graphic images in the ’70s. His conclusions may be oblique, but his methods – using sound effects and dialogue to create moments of discomfort – are remarkable.

The claustrophobia of the setting – we (almost) never leave one tiny recording booth – and the multilayered use of sound make for a richly unfamiliar viewing experience, reaching a stunning climax in one moment of wholly unexpected and effective avant-garde wrongfooting: a horror-movie shock in full reverse. But from there on, Strickland’s Lynchian ambitions begin to cloud the issue. The film doubles back, loops and comes unglued, and the climax doesn’t have the freeform psychedelic impact that the director clearly craves. The effect is deflating, almost fatally so: as the credits roll, the feeling is one
of mild disappointment, even frustration.

But then, cast your mind back, and the film’s strengths reassert themselves. From Jones’s twitchy, sympathetic-but-never-likeable central turn to Strickland’s dynamic use of sound and image, from the painstakingly drip-fed plot to a series of genuinely original shock moments, ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ is like nothing before – and whether or not it ‘works’ seems almost irrelevant. In this era of cookie-cutter cinema, Strickland’s deeply personal moral and stylistic vision deserves the highest praise.

By: Tom Huddleston


Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday August 31 2012
Duration: 92 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Peter Strickland
Screenwriter: Peter Strickland
Cast: Toby Jones
Cosimo Fusco
Layla Amir

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:3
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
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I have just watched this on DVD and had to force myself to remain watching to the end. Having reached the end, I wish I'd succumbed to the earlier temptation. The film was tedious and terminated in mid-air. Needless to say, many of the critics rated it highly. Enough said.

Toby Jones was incredible, and really pulled the film across it's narrative almost on his own. But the first two acts were fantastic and invoke a time period, and there is just enough tension to drive the casual viewer through a difficult ending.

Toby Jones was incredible, and really pulled the film across it's narrative almost on his own. But the first two acts were fantastic and invoke a time period, and there is just enough tension to drive the casual viewer through a difficult ending.

Shocking, not even worth 5 minutes of your time. The description uses words like jaw dropping and blood-curdling, I have never heard such nonsense! The most blood-curdling thing about this film was the annoying shriek of one of the female characters. I stuck the film out waiting for the dramatic 'jaw dropping' conclusion that was described, I was certainly surprised, the ending was practically non existent, he was engulfed in light and that was it, finished! I cannot believe that I wasted time and money on this "film". Big NO NO!

Why did Toby Jones start speaking perfect Italian at the end? Was he really Italian all along? I saw Toby Jones on Film 4 talking about this film and even he did not have a clue what was going on. I also noticed that it was part financed by Yorkshire Tourist Board!!!! Eh, it was set in Italy.

Slow and claustrophobic, the film only kicks off at the end when the georgeous Chiara D'Anna tells the nasty Italian filmmakers to stuff it. If you like watching fruit and veg getting mutilated this is the film for you.

The main actor and the director should make for a cracking film..What l got was an astonishing film with visual and aural mastery...The first 20 mins are rather good,but than the film descends into too much repetition..The scenes are just too similar,that intrigue is uncomfortably close to boredom...The main actor l felt underplayed his part..l loved the final 15 mins which is like an 1920s German expressionist scene of madness and hallucination..The best acting came from the gorgeous mysterious beauty that does the screaming..3 Stars but l will be going to see the next film by the director as he takes cinematic risks,in the safe world of film making..Not for the Time out crowd,but more suited to the Guardian readership