Berberian Sound Studio Movie Review
Toby Jones finally gets the leading role he deserves as the tweedy sound designer Gilderoy, who travels to Italy in the 1970s to mix the audio track for a trashy blood-soaked giallo horror movie called The Equestrian Vortex. It's about nuns who are viciously interrogated for being witches, so Gilderoy's job entails directing actresses to scream their lungs out into microphones as assistants smash melons and cabbage heads to create the grisly sound effects.
Then as the workings of Italian society drive him around the bend, Gilderoy begins to lose his grip on reality, as if the horror movie is leaking into his private life.
Strickland only shows us the gonzo title sequence of the film within the film, leaving us to see everything else through what we hear. And we hear plenty! The movie's dialog is arch and rather crazed, so we can tell that this is a grisly B-movie even as the director (Mancino) insists that it's a serious historical drama. Watching the workings of the sound studio is wickedly hilarious, as are the darkly funny clashes between the cast and crew, who continually storm out of the studio in a huff.
We see all of this through Gileroy's eyes, as his meticulous approach to sound design is continually subverted by the chaos of the noisy Italians he's forced to work with. And Strickland portrays this with a range of images and sounds that are nothing short of genius. The detail in this film is simply breathtaking, and worth seeing on a big screen in a cinema with a first-rate sound system. As the story gets increasingly surreal, it starts to feel like a David Lynch movie that blurs the lines between imagination and grim reality. So if the film's ending seems a bit of a let-down, everything that came before was so masterful that we don't mind too much.