Peter Strickland turned many heads in 2008 with his
debut feature, Kaitlin Varga, a film that premiered at
the Berlinale and was memorable for the bold use of
naturalistic lighting throughout the production of a
film that was in essence a rape revenge thriller.
Strickland has comeback to the fold with an even
bolder and more ambitious project, but this time
produced at Three Mill Studios in West London.
Strickland was teaching English as a foreign language
in Hungary, and found money for his first feature by
using his family's inheritance. This time he has
found backing through the UK Film Council and Film4
for this his second feature.
Strickland has written a piece about Gilderoy (Toby
Jones - in a rare leading role) an English foley
artist, who has been transported to somewhere in Italy
to work on post-production of a giallo horror picture
directed by Santini (Antonio Mancino) where he works
under the watchful eye of producer Francisco (Cosimo
Fusco) a man who would love to be in charge but does
not have the vision.
From the off, Gilderoy is on the back foot. An
Englishman in a foreign land without a grasp of the
native language, he is told to be more polite and
courteous to his hosts. Santini is affronted by
the notion of Gilderoy stating the generic context of
the film, 'Never call my picture a horror
picture. It is a Santini picture.' as he angles
for authorial residency alongside Dario Argento to
whom this is an audiovisual love letter.
Strickland does wonderful things with his script, we
never get to see any of the actual filmed footage of
The Equestrian Vortex ('I thought it was about
horses?') instead we are treated to actors screaming
on cue adding additional dialogue to the scenes,
seeing in their eyes the colours as they watch the
footage back. Strickland also employs two mute
technicians as the worker bees who do all the
destruction and damage to create the bludgeonings,
stabbings and burnings that occur in the studio.
Slowly however, the wheels start to come off the
post-production process as the director Santini
attempts to bed an actress, Silvia (Fatma Mohamed)
which ends in sabotage. This leads to them
re-hiring and again messing up the process, apparently
it was hard to find a solid screamer in mid-1970s
Gilderoy also slowly descends into a period of
depression and alienation prompted by the letters sent
to him by his Mother in regard to some birds in his
garden shed. Gilderoy usually works alone in
said shed, so working in a much bigger studio is a big
deal for his career, yet he is one of these humdrum
button-downed Englishmen who are scared to spread his
wings himself, much like the baby birds his mother has
found in his garden.
Whilst the film is expertly produced in terms of sound
design, and visually stunning thanks to the work of
Nick Knowland cinematography; yet there are at times
lots of ideas in the film that are never fully
pursued. The motif of a spider in Gilderoy's
apartment leads him to look at something from his
window, something which we never see; the repeated
pictures of rotting fruit lead to nothing in general
apart from fresher fruit being added to the pile and
Gilderoy's numerous attempts to gain reimbursement for
his flight is somewhat shot down by the insinuation
that the flight never existed - why is this, does this
make our Englishman a liar, or worse a madman who is
not who he says he is.
A lot of these narrative threads are either tossed
aside too quickly or rashly dealt with to maintain a
short running time - itself a mystery as the first
hour does seem to drag in spite of the evocative
beauty of the piece in general. The third act
which brings us Gilderoy being dubbed in Italian and
with the film breaking into a piece about Surrey
fields, is somewhat unwanted and distracting.
This is a shame as the film is masterly put together
by Strickland with a lot of faithfulness and respect
to the slowly forgotten art of sound editing and
design. Yet the ending comes somewhat abruptly
with Gilderoy staring at nothing in particular,
meaning that the sound editor is probably just as
blind as all.
Berberian Sound Studio is out now on limited release
from Artificial Eye.