Berberian Sound Studio

Saturday January 19, 2013

2012, 92 minutes, 15 certificate, Directed by Peter Strickland, Starring Toby Jones,  Antonio Mancino, Cosimo Fusco

This chilling and unique British thriller, about strange goings on in 1970’s post-production, came and went from our cinema screens last summer, without much fanfare, but with critics unanimous in their effusive praise. “…my highlight of 2012 – adventurous, enigmatic and sound as a pound” (Mark Kermode); “its vision, ingenuity and sheer gobsmacking audacity have blown me ten feet out of my seat. …a great, rumbling thunderclap of genius” (Robbie Collin, Telegraph); “…one of the most remarkable British movies of the last couple of years” (Philip French, Observer).

Tony Jones in Berberian Sound Studio at Thame Cinema

In another consummate performance, Toby Jones – who has cemented his place as one of the greatest character actors of his generation – is Gilderoy, a prissy and introverted sound engineer from the home counties.

For reasons that are uncertain, he is recruited by the Berberian Sound Studio, and travels to Italy to provide sound effects for the producers of a film called The Equestrian Vortex. Turns out it has nothing to do with horses. Rather, it is one of a string of gaudy, sadistic, sexually explicit horror films of the period known as ‘giallo’ pictures.

Gilderoy, more accustomed to working with clipped Shakespearean thesps and Vaughn Williams’ Lark Ascending, is very much the innocent abroad in a studio that feels more like a high security psychiatric institution, peopled by the luridly flamboyant and menacingly desirable.

Gilderoy becomes increasingly entrapped in this nightmarish new world, but it is the sounds themselves – the sounds of violence and terror – that ensnare him, gradually eroding his interior life and obliterating his psychic retreats into pastoral England.

This is a film about the moralities of movie making and its relationship with popular culture. In particular, it explores the power of sound, often an overlooked element of the cinematic art, but one that is intrinsic to the psychological impact of the movie experience. A real one-off.