My haiku review of Berberian Sound Studio:
Trap foley artist lost soul
Mashing ripe melons.
A remarkably English Foley Artist, Gilderoy is lured from the sanctity of working on nature films and children’s television shows across to Italy to add sound to a gory horror feature. As the reality of the labour and sense of isolation crank up the sound engineer begins to find himself slipping further into fantasy until the bonds tethering him in place snap and he spends the remainder of the film in freefall.
Originally shown in one of the Sunday night slots at Frightfest, the film was a strange beast. On one side, it was an aural feast, with one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in some time. On the other, I struggled to understand what was being painted on the screen, and whether I was being shown a very technical documentary of Gilderoy (played by Toby Jones) encountering an obstinate Italian film industry or something much more sinister. As an introduction to the “film”, the director Santini (played by Antonio Mancino) sits with Gilderoy as a couple of Italian artists transubstantiate some watermelons into cruelly mangled flesh, after which one of them offers a piece to eat in an ironically inverted religious gesture. There are a number of setups like this that make it difficult to grasp exactly what the director was trying to say. Was Gilderoy actually in purgatory, with his tapes playing back sounds of his prior life? Did his constant battle to get his plane ticket reimbursed hint at an altercation with the ferryman that was taking him across the river Styx? Was the replay of scenes redubbed with an Italian voice over representative of him being trapped in-between worlds? To be honest I didn’t particularly care by the end. The films strongest moments were when it expressed it’s essential sound designer core and let rip with soundtracks to moments like “a dangerously aroused Goblin stalks the dormitory…” The film really is stripped back to its rawest elements, and the loving attention to visual and auditory details makes the film.
Whilst this film is by no means a classic, the strong sound design and visual framing make it a worthwhile experience, even if the story itself is relatively undecipherable. If you get the chance watch this on a decent surround sound system or in a cinema, otherwise you’ll be missing out. I’m giving this a square-wave rumbled one thumb up.