News from the Locarno Festival
 

Berberian Sound Studio

In this film set in the 1970s in Italy, which pays perverse homage to the gialli of the epoch, Peter Strickland achieves the difficult feat of making a film on cinephilic melancholy without embracing it as an attitude. To do this, he must master a dead language, an imaginary system endowed with a brutality that is both avant-garde and coarsely commercial.

A film has been shot and edited; now the foley work must give it a dimension of realism. The enormous artifice this effect requires becomes the subject of Berberian Sound Studio, which details the process in so hypnotic a manner as to become an abstract film on the pulverisation of vegetables and fruits. Yet, as the on-screen characters’ constant reference to the off-screen film they are looping reminds us, Berberian Sound Studio is also an elaborate exercise in the deferral of a full filmic space. The film never closes the gap between the space of filmic pleasure (posed as a goal, but also as something obscene and illicit, which we, the audience, are not permitted to view) and the confusing partial space that the protagonist, the sound technician Gilderoy (Toby Jones), inhabits.

This partial space is, by extension, also that of the film viewer, who, like Gilderoy, comes too late to a film that has already been shot. That film needs the viewer for the same reason it needs Gilderoy: to complete its realism and to add the element of belief. If Berberian Sound Studio is a deeply melancholy film, it’s because in elevating film viewing to the condition of labour, it underlines the derisory belatedness of that labour.

Chris Fujiwara
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