Title: Berberian Sound Studio
Director: Peter Strickland
Screenwriter: Peter Strickland
Cast: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Fatma Mohamed, Tonia Sotiropoulou
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 6/5/13
Opens: June 14, 2013
When Mark Twain penned “The Innocents Abroad” in 1869, he could not have imagined the fate of Gilderoy in the movie “Berberian Sound Studio.” After all, there were no movies at the time, and Grand Guignol theater, producing shows of horror, was founded by Oscar Méténier in France only in 1894 at the Place Pigalle in Paris. Peter Strickland, whose other feature movie “Katalan Varga” is about a woman traveling in the Carpathian Mountains with a small boy seeking vengeance against her abusers, is on a similar track in his sophomore feature about Gilderoy, an innocent abroad who seems too overcome by inertia to escape extreme culture shock and thereby reverts into his own hallucinatory world.
The film is best seen as a remarkable technical, atmospheric product, its narrative taking a rear seat to technology. Toby Jones anchors the work perfectly, though ultimately those who are seeking real Grand Guignol and others who would like a more conventional conclusion will be disappointed.
The action is set in 1976 as Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a timid Brit from his appropriately named town of Dorking, UK accepts an offer from a Grade B horror studio in Italy to produce the sound needed for a cheesy horror film. Intending to polish his résumé with a production abroad, the short, balding, introverted sound technician is confronted with culture shock in several areas. Meeting the Berberian Studio’s receptionist, he is put off by her indifferent-to-hostile attitude, refusing to reimburse him for the flight from Heathrow airport saying, “it’s not my department.”
More confusion results from his encounter with Santini (Antonio Mancino), the director of the horror film, who stands virtually touching Gilderoy, which is typical of Italians who are known to like to smell the garlic on another’s breath, wondering why “you English” are so uptight and distant. When Santini offers Gilderoy a snack, the Brit moves to take it in his hands while Santini motions him to open his mouth. Gilderoy’s real nemesis, though, is Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), the hyper, rude producer who is disliked by the actresses for his overbearing nature, and who hassles the visitor regularly with criticism about his technical work.
There is considerable humor in the story. When one actress simulating a scream is considered inept, Francesco barks, “Save the fake orgasm for your next casting director,” and instructs the Englishman to turn up her headphones loud enough to elicit genuine glass-breaking screeches.
We never see even a foot of the film worked on by Gilderoy. The horror comes from the Briton’s own terrors and hallucinations which occupy the final and most interesting third of “Berberian.” With a superb technical passage and a realistic performance by Toby Jones, “Berberian Sound Studio” will be appreciated not by the usual horror crowd but by a patient audience with a well-developed sense of humor.
Unrated. 88 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Technical – A-
Acting – B+
Overall – B