Sunday, December 15, 2013

Berberian Sound Studio Slowly Fizzles: A Movie Review

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*full disclosure: a DVD screener of this film was provided by IFC Films.

Director/writer: Peter Strickland.

Cast: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino and Fatma Mohamed.

Berberian Sound Studio is a United Kingdom shot film. This smallish film blends the English and Italian languages as one central character unhinges, strangely, before the viewer's eye. This unconventional film is a surreal and expressionistic title, whose meaning is left up to the viewer. Truly a slow burn, Berberian Sound Studio cannot easily be put into genre and the film is closest to a character study, with Gilderoy succumbing to studio pressure. This title will not be for most film fans as the Berberian Sound Studio putters into nothingness.

The film begins and ends with the character Gilderoy (Toby Jones). Gilderoy has flown from England down to Italy, in order to compose sound on a film that is never shown to viewers. The film is a non-fictional account of Italian Catholic witch trials and Gilderoy must produce all sorts of strange sounds for the film. However, the material and petty conflicts on the set slowly start to unsettle the protagonist. Soon, reality and fiction become one, in a claustrophobic sound studio.

Berberian Sound Studio is best described as unconventional. There is rising tension in the narrative, but the climax implodes more than explodes. That implosion is happening inside one meek character, Gilderoy. So, the film's story does not follow a conventional narrative: rising tension, climax and denouement. The conclusion is more of a whimper and left up to the viewer's biases. As well, the film's conflicts mostly occur as a sidebar. Gilderoy's biggest conflict involves a never coming paycheck. There are no real sparks here, with the film relying on subtle subplots for tension.

This film is another character study. This reviewer defines a character study as a focus on a character's inner workings, inside a minor plotline. The plot structure does not really move outside of: Gilderoy's work in the sound studio. As well, the character's personality is shown centrally through dreams and behaviours. There is no real impetus to move the story forward. So, viewers, who decide to watch this film, will be spending a lot of time simply watching Gilderoy go about his sound duties. Madness lingers for both you and the protagonist.

Berberian Sound Studio is a slow burn. The pacing is unbearably slow. There is tension here, but the film is building towards a psychological devolvement. The climax is a bit of a letdown as Gilderoy works through a few fatalistic dreams. There is little conflict here and this viewer would have liked to see the protagonist standing up to the tensions of the studio, rather than succumbing to them. Overall, Berberian Sound Studio is a surrealistic experience, which does not really offer any excitement.

This film is only recommended to fans of expressionistic titles. More an experiential film, this title does introduce interesting sounds and transitions. But, the story is only interesting through the first act. The second and third acts meander, while Gilderoy fades from reality. Berberian Sound Studio is more of a character study, rather than a genre film and the majority of viewers might be disappointed by this outing.

Overall: 6.5 out of 10 (an interesting setting, lack of conflict, no real climax, pacing is abysmally slow, open ended conclusion).

A trailer for the film can be found here:

Berberian Sound Studio on Facebook


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