Or: What if Bava, Lynch, Fulci and Argento had a love child?
I’ll be honest with you from the beginning: I have never seen Peter Strickland’s first full-length feature, Katalin Varga, nor was I ever compelled to. I wasn’t in the slightest interested in seeing that rape-revenge movie that, funnily enough is a Romanian co-production (spoken in Romanian and Hungarian). Its trailer wasn’t the least bit alluring and it all seemed quite dry and pretentious.
Therefore, I wasn’t really expecting a lot out of Berberian Sound Studio – the only reasons I had for watching the movie were: a) the soundtrack is done by Broadcast and b) it’s the story of a man working on a giallo. With that in mind, I set out to watch it but I wasn’t really prepared for this superb experience.
Berberian Sound Studio is the story of Gilderoy, a highly regarded sound engineer that comes to Italy to work on the gruesome new Santini film, a work-of-art so bloody and gory that its film-maker feels it will transcend all question of taste and morals. Gilderoy is a neophyte in the Italian horror movie scene and looks upon his assignment with somewhat distaste and disregard.
As the movie progresses, all of the experience we get with Santini’s film is through sound. Not one image (apart from the excellent main titles) is shown. Naturally, Berberian Sound Studio is a movie obsessed with sound and what information we get about Santini’s oeuvre is only in the form of sound – the dubbing of the dialogue and of the screams, the scenes which are presented in detailed by a black-gloved projectionist whose face we never see and so on.
Gilderoy, not being accustomed to this type of films, starts to descend on a slippery path towards madness (slightly simimilar to Edward Tor Swenson, the mild-mannered film editor in charge of cutting slasher films, from the hysterically funny Evil Ed). Being faced with the daunting task of designing all the horrific sounds of the giallo, Gilderoy loses his grip on reality. Then everything switches to full-on David Lynch cinema (whose Inland Empire talks about the same type of mental and physical involvement in film making).
This is a film lover’s film, no doubt about that. Even though one might question the scorn Gilderoy looks upon his work with, it’s still a strange and wonderfully quizzical love letter to a bygone era and an intriguing insight into how the dubbing process works (or worked, for that matter). It’s a beautiful film from a visual standpoint as well – all the right colors of a giallo are there, lavish reds, electric blues and so forth and this begs to be seen and heard with the best type of audio and video equipment.
With a wonderfully quirky Easter egg during the credits and an eerie atmosphere drawn from Lynch, Argento, Bava and, why not, even Fulci, Berberian Sound Studio is definitely the best film I have seen in 2012. It’s truly something that needs to be Experienced, not just watched.