“Berberian Sound Studio” (2012) is a British independent film production starring Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a British sound engineer who goes to Italy to manage the post-production sound work on a Giallo-style Italian horror film, “The Equestrian Vortex.” He does this work at Berberian Sound Studio (of course) for driven producer Francesco Corragio (Cosimo Fusco) and salacious director Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino).
Written and directed by Peter Strickland, this film is liable to confuse and frustrate the viewer unless s/he knows something about Giallo films (about which I am not an expert). The film-within-a-film with which Gilderoy works, “The Equestrian Vortex,” has many characteristics of Giallo films (about which, incidentally, critics and film scholars disagree on the defining characteristics). “Berberian Sound Studio,” on the other hand, subverts many of these characteristics of the genre, while at the same time celebrating it.
“Berberian Sound Studio” is also a British view of Italian filmmaking, both inside the film (Gilderoy versus Francesco and Giancarlo) and outside of it (a British indie production about a particular type of Italian production). For example, Francesco is driven, deceptive, overbearing, and at times abusive. Giancarlo is the stereotypical flashy, egotistical, womanizing director. As a British archetype, Gilderoy does not come off much better. He is humorless, frumpy, and clearly single. He is taken aback by the content of the film on which he’s working. His only letters are from his “Mum,” who is clearly very much involved in his affairs.
Gilderoy is overconcerned with getting a reimbursement for his airfare to Italy, which is the Giallo “crime” of the film. Like the stereotypical Giallo hero, he becomes paranoid. His paranoid ideas are aggressively resisted by Francesco, leading Gilderoy to become somewhat delusional (helped along by voice-over actress Silvia [Fatma Mohamed]). The scenes in which Gilderoy finds himself within the film can be seen as the kind of delirious paranoia characteristic of Giallo film heroes. Unlike the typical hero, however, Gilderoy is male (although not very manly by Italian standards).
“Berberian Sound Studio” also boasts the look and sound of a Giallo film. The cinematography, editing, sound, and musical score are technically excellent. This is an art film on which a cinema studies prof could do a seminar (or write a very long, semiotics-driven article). This virtue is also a bit of a flaw, as it renders the film somewhat inaccessible to those who are not cinéastes.
I watched this film via Netflix; it is also available via iTunes and Amazon. My Rotten Tomatoes rating: 4 out of 5 stars.