Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a British sound engineer and foley artist who has been asked to work in Italy. What he doesn’t know is that he’ll be working on a horror film, something he’s never done before, and something that he’s not a big fan of. As Gilderoy is exposed to more violence on the screen, and tense relationships with his co-workers, his sanity starts to fall apart.
Cinephiles will fall in love with Berberian Sound Studio, but it may be a hard sell to a general audience. Set in the ’70s, the opening 30 minutes of the film are a fascinating look at behind the scenes sound work that any movie fan will enjoy. It’s when things start getting twisted that some audience members may lose patience with the film. It’s an incredibly well done movie, but the lack of a conclusion may leave many people wondering what happened, and whether they should care at all.
Toby Jones is outstanding as Gilderoy. He’s mild mannered, and much too shy for the outrageous characters he has to work with. Watching him try to adjust to a very different way of life can even be quite funny. As he starts to lose his grip on sanity, Jones plays it perfectly, never going over the top and taking the slow slide into madness at just the right pace.
The fact that you never actually see the horror film that he’s working on doesn’t take away from its disturbing power though. While Gilderoy is stabbing heads of lettuce, or tearing the stalk off various vegetables to create the sounds of people being tortured, your mind starts to imagine terrible images. The unseen is always more unsettling, and that’s precisely what’s happening in Berberian Sound Studio. We know what Gilderoy is watching and the gruesome sound effects he creates, coupled with the look on his face, builds an atmosphere that is more terrifying than anything we could actually witness.
By the end, viewers will be unsure of what is reality and what’s Gilderoy’s fiction. As the two blend together, it becomes an increasingly difficult movie to understand. A fantastic way to create a post screening dialogue, but one that may not be for everybody.
Is Berberian Sound Studio opening weekend worthy?
For anybody who enjoys some solid discussion after a film or is a staunch cinephile, this is the movie for you. With a few winks and nods to various giallo films, cinephiles will be impressed. It can be confusing, but if you can put the effort in, it’s incredibly rewarding
Berberian Sound Studio opens Friday, August 2, 2013 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Check their website for details.
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