A British sound technician (Toby Jones) is sent to work in an Italian sound studio for a group of filmmakers who failed to let him know he would be working on a horror film. Not used to working on that sort of thing he struggles to cope with the task at hand while dealing with his controlling and demanding bosses.
Berberian Sound Studio appears to be set in the ’70s but it lives entirely within a time and world of its own. At once a striking psychological horror, keen character study and celebration of the technical aspects of filmmaking before it all went digital, it is a powerful film that’s fascinating and supremely odd.
Unpredictable in nature, the film leads the audience down several different paths (sometimes more than one at a time), and blends tones together in an exquisite manner. It has a rhythm to it that works so well and an atmosphere that’s as hypnotic as it is strange. And the fact that it’s set almost entirely within the confines of a sound studio lends it a claustrophobic nature which in turn amplifies the tension.
At the centre of it all is Jones who is our anchor in an alien world of dark booths and loud noises, proving his brilliant acting talent by pulling off difficult role. He manages to bring a humanity to the proceedings and even moments of comic relief as he gets freaked out by, for example, watermelons being smashed to create a sound effect or repeatedly asking for reimbursement for flight expenses.
One of the most wonderful things about the film is how it explores, as the title may suggest, sound in movies. It’s an aspect we take for granted every time we sit down in a dark room to watch a film but sound is absolutely crucial in creating mood, atmosphere and even the basics of understanding what an image is trying to convey. The film skilfully plays around with this aspect, for example showing a woman screaming but taking away the sound, creating a jarring affect that reminds you of the power the relationship between sound and image can have.
Intimate, haunting and wonderfully weird, Berberian Sound Studio is the type of unique film that should be cherished. It evokes the work of David Lynch, like an extended stay in Mulholland Drive’s Club Silencio, with its primal atmosphere, dreamlike narrative, enigmatic ending and an overall mentality that allows everyone to get something different out of it. This is brilliant filmmaking and, for what it’s aiming to be, rather perfect.