Berberian Sound Studio could be considered an exploration of Italian giallo or a surreal character study. Whatever the case, I found Berberian Sound Studio an engrossing, if somewhat off-putting, movie. I was engaged thoroughly in some scenes, a bit uninterested in others, but I recognized the genius behind director Peter Strickland’s work.
The film is about Gilderoy (Toby Jones), an English sound engineer who goes off to Italy to work on an Italian giallo entitled The Equestrian Vortex. As he enters the Italian studio, he finds the workplace amiss. The actors seem odd, the director eccentric, and his boss angry. He regularly receives letters from his mother back in England, but cheerful news soon turns into gloom. Gilderoy grows maddened by his profession and slowly his life turns around.
Berberian Sound Studio spends a majority of its 90-minute screen time on the process of making sound effects. Bashing a watermelon sounds exactly like someone’s head being broken, pulling tomatoes of their stalk appears identical to tugging one’s hair, and jabbing watermelons with a knife swishes just like a real stabbing. The process is fascinating to anyone interested in film and I especially enjoyed many of these sequences.
Strickland balances this side of the movie with the narrative. Berberian Sound Studio enters the territory of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive for its art-imitating-life theme. The trouble is Berberian Sound Studio doesn’t accomplish the perfection of Mulholland Drive and Strickland never fully graspes his subject matter the way Lynch can. But despite its bumps, Berberian Sound Studio is intoxicating and it’s easy to find yourself lost in the movie. Strickland fills his picture with symbolism and motifs and brings a powerful performance from Toby Jones. Jones perfectly embodies Gilderoy; he portrays him as a nervous, shy wreck but never overplays the character.
While I never fully loved Berberian Sound Studio, I enjoyed and very much admired the movie. Who knows, perhaps in about five to ten years time Strickland will become the next Lynch.