Monday, 14 January 2013

Films Of 2012 - No. 3

Films Of 2012 - No. 3

Berberian Sound Studio (Dir. Peter Strickland)

Of the 10 films in this countdown, I saw 9 of them in a cinema. Of all of them, Berberian Sound Studio was the one which felt like it needed to be cinema. Having recently watched it again on DVD (in an odd coincidence, it was the last thing I bought from HMV who have just entered administration and may have disappeared from UK high streets by the time you read this) it was less impressive on the smaller screen but still worthy of a place in my top 3.

Sound engineer Gilderoy arrives at the Berberian Sound Studio in Italy to begin work on a new film, "The Equestrian Vortex". Having not been told anything about the film before arriving, Gilderoy is quite shocked to learn that he will be working on a gory, sinister horror film (not a nice film about horse riding). As he immerses himself in his work, he begins to lose his grasp on reality.

There are many other psychological horror films which portray a character's mental decline, but Berberian Sound Studio stands out thanks to its brilliant use and focus on sound. As Gilderoy goes about his work recording sound effects, director Peter Strickland never shows the corresponding screen images. He forces the audience to imagine the horrific images that Gilderoy has to work with. In doing this, Strickland highlights the importance of sound in film, particularly in horror films.

Gilderoy's decent into madness is utterly believable thanks to the film's measured pace, an unnerving sense of claustrophobia and an outstanding performance from Toby Jones. Gilderoy is a mild mannered, meek middle aged man from the countryside who is totally out of his comfort zone. His situation isn't helped by the fact that he is surrounded by a group of insufferable co-workers. From an egotistical director, cantankerous actresses and a producer who constantly berates him, Gilderoy enters as the only normal person in the room but is slowly driven to insanity.

Berberian Sound Studio could have been accused of taking itself far too seriously were it not for a wonderfully black sense of humour that accompanies the action. Whilst we may not see any of "The Equestrian Vortex", we do get some scene descriptions which are horrifying and hilarious. To mention any would spoil them but when combined with some other well placed comedic moments, they give the film an almost playful tone which reminded me of the excellent Rosemary's Baby.

It doesn't make complete sense (even after two viewings) but I don't think it's meant too. It seems it was intended to be more of a "mood piece" than a strong narrative tale, but it is a highly original and memorable piece of film-making.

Be sure to catch Berberian Sound Studio in a cinema if you can. Otherwise find a nice dark room with a large screen and good sound system (don't adjust the volume either, the loud moments are meant to be uncomfortable). Sit back and relax, a whole new world of sound awaits you.

All of the trailers I found for the film contained too many spoilers in my opinion. It's best to avoid them if you can. So instead, here's the title sequence for "The Equestrian Vortex" which is the only footage of that film shown during Berberian Sound Studio. Not only does it hint at the film's tone, but it showcases the excellent soundtrack by Broadcast.

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