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Fantastic Fest 2012: Capone sounds off on the flawed BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, starring Toby Jones!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Austin for Fantastic Fest 2012.

I can't think of a situation where I would miss a movie starring Toby Jones, and I'm glad I got a chance to see his latest, BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO at Fantastic Fest, because it's a film that starts strong but fades frustratingly into near invisibility. But throughout its running time, Gilderoy (Jones) remains a quiet, tightly wound bundle of nerves as a Britich audio engineer for the movies who is called in by a famous Italian director (Antonio Mancino) to work on his latest, ultra-disturbing film. And it drives Gilderoy to the brink of insanity.

One of the wisest decisions of director Peter Strickland is to never show us a frame of the film he's made. We hear descriptions of the characters--I particularly liked the horny goblin--and appalling actions and displays of gore--hot pokers come into play, with the appropriate amount of sizzling flesh to accompany their use--but Strickland allows our minds to fill in the visuals. So the odds are that the more you love horror, the more disturbing this movie will be for you. The action rarely leaves the recording studio, with a variety of colorful Italians coming in and out, challenging the sensibility of the reserved sound man. Verbally abusive producers, lovely voice actresses, and goofy foley artists populate the studio and provide amusing foils for Gilderoy's work ethic. That part of BERBERIAN is fantastic.

But as the disturbing nature of the movie (called THE EQUESTRIAN VORTEX) takes its toll on Gilderoy, he starts having disturbing dreams and visions, and the film shifts from a story about giallo post-production into a fever dream of an uptight Brit trying to get reimbursed for his airfare to Italy. If the film had stuck to that story, it might have been something of a minor masterpiece. I loved watching actresses practicing their screams, Jones stabbing into cabbages to approximate the sound of a knife going into a sexy witch, or dropping melons to get that "hitting the ground hard" sound just right. But as it, BERBERIAN gets lost as if it didn't quite know how it wanted to end, and things simply go "Pfffft!"

In a way, things that are near misses are more frustrating than the ones that are flat-out terrible, and BERBERIAN certainly is not unwatchable. It's a fascinating little work that many will probably get a kick out of for about 75 percent of the time. The film certainly works as an authentic behind-the-scenes snapshot, but it's difficult to imagine anyone giving this one a pass with an ending this deafeningly weak. Upon reflection, it's a closer call than you might think, but I can't quite recommend this ambitious but flawed work.

-- Steve Prokopy
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  • Sept. 22, 2012, 5:35 p.m. CST


    by Ironhelix


  • Sept. 22, 2012, 5:41 p.m. CST

    Finally, an accurate review

    by Garbageman33

    I'm tired of hearing critics fawn all over this deeply flawed film. It just doesn't go anywhere. Thanks, Capone.

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 5:48 p.m. CST


    by Kabukiman

    Hah, so a review isn't accurate unless the reivewer agrees with you? I have no problem with the review, but I respectfully disagree. I love that they strayed from the basic premise and wandered more into the meta realm that they went to and I absolutely loved the ending. I couldn't think of a better way to end it.

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 5:50 p.m. CST

    I guess it's just nice to know I'm not crazy

    by Garbageman33

    For a while there, I felt like the only one who didn't love it. I was so excited to find out I wasn't alone, I misspoke. Sorry.

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 6:56 p.m. CST


    by Kabukiman

    Fair enough. I really liked the movie but I'm actually kind of surprised that it isn't more divisive...

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 8:01 p.m. CST

    This film pissed me off

    by tyler_turden

    I totally agree with Capone. I had a long conversation with a fellow, well-versed, festival goer who heard me airing my frustrations and he condescendingly asked me if "I'd seen Polanski?'. It seemed I could articulate what I hated about the film easily, while he struggled to explain why I should like it. I told him I had nothing against surrealism, I just hate when films descend into nonsense and people proclaim it to be genius. My take

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 5:17 a.m. CST

    Britich audio engineer

    by thommcg

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 3:18 a.m. CST

    This movie looks great

    by CuervoJones

    Some kind of Fulci-Argento-DePalma thing, I hope.

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 8:14 a.m. CST

    99 problems but my Britich

    by Splicer

    ain't one