Monday, October 1, 2012

Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO

Directed by: Peter Strickland
Written by: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotifopoulou, Antonio Mancino, Cosimo Fusco, and Susanna Capperllaro 
Synopsis: A stuffy audio engineer is hired to record sound for an Italian giallo film which causes his life starts to deteriorate along with the movie.

I know most of you people that regularly read this site might be tired of this, but I will never stop loving movies that involve the recording or performing of music. When I heard that there was going to be movie with Toby Jones as a sound engineer I knew I had to see it. If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, it sure as hell was controversial. You either had people that loved it or just completely hated it. As you might ascertain, I'm one of those people that loved it. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is a subtle thriller that looks at the often ego-driven creative process of film making through the eyes of mild-mannered engineer that will make you question every frame of the movie you just saw.

The movie starts with Gilderoy (Jones) getting hired by an Italian director, Giancarlo Santini, to do the sound design for his movie, THE EQUESTRIAN VORTEX. Gilderoy was hired on because he's known for his nature documentary work. When he meets eccentric producer Coraggio, he is informed that there will be no equestrian action, and that this is a horror movie, which Gilderoy isn't comfortable with. Having to record people smashing watermelons with hammers and crunching and ripping apart vegetables to simulate various violent acts is not something Gilderoy signed up for but goes through it anyway.

A particular point of contention for a lot of people I talked to was the repetitive scenes of Gilderoy . I quite enjoyed actually seeing some of the creative and monotonous aspects of doing sound for a movie as is depicted in BERBERIAN. Back in college, I used to do some recordings myself along with some very terrible sampling for random music projects, so seeing even what's a fictionalized depiction of recording was great. Seeing the ways that Gilderoy tries to recreate a person drowning, getting hacked away, or a witch getting a hot iron inserted into her vagina were equally funny and disturbing. The numerous scenes in the control room with all of the knobs and cables and notes are just so fascinating to me. What's even better is that with each recording scene starts to show something more and more sinister if you were paying attention properly. 

I like to think this movie is a way to show the fact that a creative endeavor like a movie has a way of actually affecting you. In this instance there is a horror movie's constant but unseen presence and we start to see how being in this environment can negatively affect you. Adding to Gilderoy woes is the supporting cast of the Santini, Coraggio, and the revolving cast of the actresses that Santini hires, sleeps with, and subsequently fires. They all added a little something of a stress that seems to chip away at Gilderoy to a mental and almost literal breaking point. 

Part of the "fun" of the movie is picking up on the details. I particularly enjoyed piecing together the pieces from the movie-within-the-movie. There is a point in the movie where everything just takes a turn for the surreal. Things start to get weirder to the point where you don't really know exactly what you're watching. Actors are being tortured in the sound booth, and then Gilderoy all of the sudden knows more Italian. I realize that everything that I'm seeing is very vague, but I am trying to make sure I don't spoil anything, and I can assure you, this is a movie you want to go in blind as much as you can. 

Discussing the movie with friends after the festival, I realized that this movie is very similar to director David Lynch's MUHOLLAND DRIVE down to the fact that once the movie ends, you realize that there's a definitive "turning" point in the story. This movie requires repeat viewing rewards them with more details that enrich this haunting story. I find any movie that deals with the unreliable nature of memories and by that extension the notion of the "self" fascinating. The fact that we have a movie that deals with this theme, throws in a sound studio setting, and giving me a reason to research Italian Giallo films makes this one of my favorite movies of this festival so far. 

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