Berberian Sound Studio
It's a struggle to watch but if you like your art house films that let you find your own story and meaning with the minimal amount of guidance then perhaps this is for you. One thing is clear, critics and sound engineers will really enjoy the film, much more than a general audience.
Berberian Sound Studio is really not what I expected from reading the blurb at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. There I thought we were destined more for a psychological horror film with the bent much towards the psychological side of the genre than the horror and while there were aspects that met my expectations, as the film progressed it slipped away from these initial beliefs until I was confused about pretty much everything.
The film begins to turn rather surreal during the latter half, slowly at first but then with more noticeable changes. To begin with this is fine but as it continues it loses sight of the story and any purpose it might have had for itself or the characters, and so too does it lose the audience.
From the first half of the film I had thought that we were going to be seeing the story of the film production slowly revealed to be something rather nefarious however over time it does start to suggest that there's something more mysterious or perhaps supernatural as more off kilter events occur around our lead. Later in the film the lead's character begins to change and come the end another option for the meaning of the film is being suggested to the audience, although the suggestion is very light and does leave the audience pretty much on their own to make up any number of possible meanings and indeed endings.
There could be any number of meanings behind the film but it does seem to bend slightly more towards the idea that the main character is more at the centre of events, and as he loses control it seems as though he becomes more and more absorbed by the production. In fact I think it goes deeper than that and a few clues later on suggest perhaps there's much more about his understanding of events than the film is presenting. I'll leave that there as to go any further might be seen as a spoiler even though the film does leave you to it when it comes to any hint of an explanation.
There are plenty of questions and few answers but this does present a nice air of mystery and uncertainty which builds the thriller side of the film well, it also does a good job of developing these feelings from smaller moments in the film such as scenes of the sound engineering for film within the film.
Toby Jones does a wonderful job of playing the character and helps heightened these feelings, interpreting them well for the audience and providing the only real connection with the characters and events. He's a superb actor and shines through the confusion.
Another strong aspect of the film is the sound design I was mentioning earlier and the direction of the scenes where we see an insight into the sound production sequences of a film. I really enjoyed these as they were very well realised, filmed and the sound production of these sequences are really good and rather surprisingly engaging as they really hold onto your attention. However these aren't the key aspects of the film and while the cinematography does hold true throughout, the rest of the strengths from these scenes don't always carry through.
There are a couple of these sequences that really do stand out and stay with you well after the film and they all hinge around the use of, or the complete lack of, audio. Combining the great cinematography and the excellent direction and set design with these fantastically choreographed sound design sequences gives us the highest points of the film and delivers some superbly effective cinema.
I struggled with the rest which felt fragmented as characters disappeared and reappeared with little notice or understanding, sometimes a character who felt as though they should have been important but ended up just not coming back into the scene. This did reflect my final interpretation of the story but to be honest it doesn't really help you get there, rather it just confuses you.
During the final section of the film there seems to be some odd choices stylistically and story wise such as the dipping in and out of the previous film that the sound engineer worked on. Again this was very confusing but it did have a large influence on my final decision as to what was happening to the character and what the story was all about, a decision that meant some of the film was just thrown away.
Still with all that said I've really no idea what we should have been feeling or taking from this film. It was confusing and felt rather haphazard and disjointed particularly near the end, again this could have been the point of the film but it really wasn't clear enough to allow me to make enough of an informed decision. I felt as though the film had left us out in the cold without enough direction at the end of the film gone rather mad. Perhaps though, that was the point.
Jones is fascinating to watch and there are some really well created scenes which show off interesting and surprisingly engaging moments of sound design, but the film is lacking more of a flowing story and direction and I do think it needed to engage and bring the audience along more than it did. At various points in the latter half and the ending itself I felt abandoned by the story, what there was of it.