|'it is unlikely much comfort will be gleaned from Peter Strickland's unsettling examination of the power of sound and the state of Toby Jones' psyche'|
Sent to a strange foreign location, where clearly he is a fish not only out of water but flopping around harmlessly in the arid desert, Gilderoy (Toby Jones) washes up to the Berberian Sound Studio, a weirdly clinical recording house where all of the residents antagonise endlessly and it feels, for a time, as though we are a step away from entering Carry On With The Pouting Italians.
Whilst the prospect of that theoretical production may not fill hearts with joy, it is unlikely much comfort will be gleaned from Peter Strickland's unsettling examination of the power of sound and the state of Gilderoy's psyche. As Jones' English affectations (shy, polite, mannered) clash with the overt ebullience of his European counterparts, so too does his mildness jar with the violence he sees on-screen, he being employed to add sound to an Italian Giallo, by pervert director Santini (Antonio Mancino).
The clash of cultures, styles and psychological states is the main source of Drama - if indeed, that word can be used in relation to Berberian - but the tension, up to the final third, comes almost solely through sound. Off-screen screams show up from recording booths as Gilderoy plods the corridors, clashing with secretary Elena (Tonia Sotiropoulou) in a hopeless pursuit of his expenses. Inside the auditorium a tempestuous producer (Cosimo Fusco) watches as Gilderoy rips radish to simulate breaking necks.
Sound is, clearly, not only Strickland's dramatic interest but his subject of ponderance. Gilderoy's fight with the radishes is shot through with pangs of reluctance, a fact made plain shortly afterwards when he struggles to spray oil into a hot pan. The Englishman clearly begins to feel that he is perpetrating the deeds on screen, his input, the deceptive auditory tricks, completing an alien opera of death, complete with 'dangerously aroused goblins'.
Strickland's focus, which arguably never wavers but is certainly a little vague of purpose in the initial third, finally comes to rest specifically on Gilderoy's mind, although quite what it is that has got him into a clammy mess is never made clear. Jones gives us no clue, playing the odd engineer with a straight face throughout. His performance is a well-judged blank canvas, allowing Strickland to get on with contemplating crescendos of sound gone wild.
The ideas here seem to boil up to a consideration of presentation, and the impact of sound in the interpretation of events. Initially, Gilderoy is in an uncomfortable working environment, un-paid, frustrated, surrounded by colleagues he does not understand. By the end, as the lines between fact and fiction blur, at least for him, he is on the verge of entering his own Horror film. What has changed? Little, excluding the minute details Strickland allows us to see and hear. The everyday made more challenging and confrontational by the injection of small audio and visual stimuli.
Berberian Sound Studio is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 31st December 2012.