Monday, November 26, 2012

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012) movie review

Berberian Sound Studio (2012) (1st viewing) d. Strickland, Peter (UK)

Called to Italy to work on a new film, British sound designer Toby Jones finds himself immersed in increasingly strange environs. Even if not for the language and cultural barriers that separate the already shy and bookish professional from his colleagues, there exists an oppressive feeling of otherness; the other sound engineers find him uncooperative, the eccentric director refuses to have his exceptionally violent giallo referred to as a “horror film,” and the seemingly simple task of reimbursing Jones’ flight expenses becomes a Sisyphean labor no one seems willing to undertake.

The assignment soon begins to overwhelm Jones, with disorienting working conditions and methodologies driving him to a breaking point where he is no longer able to distinguish fiction from reality. When the film-within-the film (The Equestrian Vortex, whose oblique titling should prove amusing for longtime giallo fans) starts to bleed into the technician’s life, things take a nasty turn into David Lynch territory, specifically Mulholland Dr. with its cinema-centric trappings.

Writer/director Strickland cultivates an impressive and detailed atmosphere that will resonate with fans versed in genre trappings, watching Jones pore over footage, audio tracks, laying down gruesome foley effects, overseeing dialogue (and scream) looping, etc.

With this immersive experience building momentum and goodwill, it’s wildly disappointing that Strickland denies his audience a satisfying climax to all the build-up; a foreplay extravaganza that abruptly (and rudely, some might say) concludes shy of orgasm with your partner collapsing into a drunken slumber. The pre-existing good vibrations carry through the credits crawl, and I do recommend BSS highly. But Strickland’s presumably conscious decision to follow a “personal artistic vision” as opposed to good manners, i.e., giving the viewer what they want/deserve, will be what relegates the film to underground cult status as opposed to popular success.

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