2017/12/01

Palatable: Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Written and directed by Peter Strickland
Produced by Mary Burke, Keith Griffiths, Hans W. Geissendörfer, Nicky Earnshaw, Katherine Butler, Robin Gutch, Hugo Heppell, Michael Weber
Starring Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino, Fatma Mohamed, Salvatore LI Causi, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Chiara D'Anna, Eugenia Caruso, Guido Adorni, Jozef Cseres, Pál Tóth, Susanna Cappellaro
Culture clashes cark and rankle a meek audio engineer (Jones) accustomed to documentaries and juvenilia when he undertakes on mistaken presumption the post-production of a sordid Italian gothic horror in the early '70s. Frequent blackouts hardly harry him so much as the picture's pushy, prickly producer (Fusco) and lecherous, cynophilic director (Mancino), a macho mingle of Bava and Argento who designs to seduce the sensual actresses (Mohamed, Caruso, D'Anna) voicing their onscreen counterparts, dubbed Italianistically in toto. Not a frame of this project's disclosed beyond initiatory mock opening titles; Jones' appalled aspects and those of his subjects -- especially two aging, contorting thespians (Katalin Ladik and Jean-Michael van Schouwburg vocalizing a hissing witch and gibbering goblin, respectively) -- are canvases for the audience's imaginations when the fubby foreigner isn't grappling with his imperious superiors or a sultry, splenetic secretary (Sotiropoulou) simply to recoup the cost of his airfare. Jones and the silent, hulking pair of fraternal foley artists (Cseres, Tóth) for whom he substitutes stabs, snaps, dunks, chops, pounds and precipitates a small garden of fruits and vegetables to replicate gory splats and tears, osteal crepitation and a drowning noggin, as water squirted to saucepan sounding sizzled skin, a shaken cloth emulating the rustle of curtains during defenestration and boiling burbles contrast the halcyon purls and birdsongs of his usual innocuous fayre. His mother's missives provision Jones' aural expert respite from these rigors with idyllic evocation, but his professional prowess belies a personal impotence as the recordings degenerate for the lewd excesses of Mancino's pretentious auteur, inspiring dreams wherein the spatial and emotional disjunctures of his apartment, the studio and its movie's grue dissipate via cunning segues. It's stunningly shot, cut, recorded and performed with an nice eye for period detail and cacophonious sound design to prick the ear of any horror or giallo enthusiast, but Strickland's abstraction of this setting and his pinguid characters is as facile as caricature, betokening the idiosyncratically obtuse Anglo-Saxon ignorance of Mediterranean psychologies and gendered relations. Without a particular plot or denouement, this beautifully crafted, often mellisonant meditation is less a story than Strickland's surreal scrutiny of its figures and phenomena, which might suffice if his dramatis personae were substantial people rather than stereotypical objects of his protagonist's ruth and repugnance.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Barton Fink.

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