Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Another horror film that divided people, and another edge to the horror film landscape. Renowned film sound technician Gilderoy is a fish out of water in a remote Italian sound studio. He thinks the film he’s agreed to work on, The Equestrian Vortex, is about horses, but in fact is an Italian horror film about the torture of witches — although as manipulative director Francesco says, one of the women does ride a horse. He is immediately homesick. The studio staff are unhelpful, he doesn’t speak Italian, and he is socially awkward.

We never see the violence in the film he is working on, but we do see the planning sheets describing the sounds he needs to replicate. To comfort himself, he listens to tapes of sounds at his mother’s house, like her doorbell, and birdsong in her garden. He is emotionally repressed, but hypersensitive to the world around him, and a master of both the technical work of sound design, and the more practical work of making everyday objects sound like something else. Melons become chopped flesh. Ripped radish stalks are witches having their hair torn out. Gilderoy’s face is a treat as he shows a hidden sadistic pleasure to his work.

The camera lingers on objects in extreme closeups — tape reels, sound dials, gloved hands, microphones – just as it does on the actors’ faces as they dub the sounds and screams of witches and, most amusingly, the ‘dangerously aroused Goblin’. The Italian men are obnoxious, and the women suffer for it. Gilderoy is bullied into doing things he does not want to do, and his mental health suffers.

There are so many wonderful touches to this film, from the way the power keeps cutting out, to the way scenes blur seamlessly into each other. Like Knife+Heart, this film plays with form, with a film within a film, but here the film we are watching bends and loops, mirroring Gilderoy’s experience, and perhaps his desires. There are philosophical questions about how things start and when they are finished. I loved it.

Letterboxd: Berberian Sound Studio (2012), dir. Peter Strickland.

Wikipedia: Berberian Sound Studio