Another week, another disturbing exploration of the depths of human depravity. And for once I’m not talking about the election.
Berberian Sound Studio
The Premise (I love the Wikipedia summary for this):
British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives at the Berberian film studio in Italy to work on what he believes is a film about horses.
The Uncondensed Version:
Our somewhat surreal film begins as Gilderoy arrives in Italy to work on the sound effects for an Italian movie, The Equestrian Vortex. After checking in at the recording studio, hejust wants reimbursement for his plane ticket, but fails to get a clear answer about which department handles that. Worse news is that no one seems to have received a paycheck for months. He’s even more confused as everyone speaks Italian around him in both reality and in the film he’s working on.
Contrary to what the title leads him to believe, this is not a nice movie about horses, but a horror. (Can I just say Equestrian Vortex would be a great horror movie that could be the next Sharknado?) Of course, the director claims it’s not a horror and is extremely offended at the mere suggestion. But it’s horror.
The director, Santini, is rather easygoing and constantly smiling, hiding something sinister as it turns out. The man determined to finish the film and put in the work is the producer, who is not an especially charming boss. Perhaps the only reasonably nice character in all of this is Silvia, one of the actresses. She does provide several ominous warnings to Gilderoy, who of course ignores them.
I still don’t understand what the equestrian vortex is, but the gist of the film is that witches have risen from the grave to torture and kill girls at a riding school. At one point, the girls find the witches’ decaying bodies in the poultry tunnel, which I don’t understand outside of a slaughterhouse context.
To create the sound effects, there is so much screaming. So. Much. Screaming. We also see vegetables being dropped, melons chopped, juice blended—it’s not good to be produce in this film. It’s actually quite fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at film sound effects. I can’t think of any other movies about movies that focus so much on sound.
The increasingly disturbing plot of the film Gilderoy is working on parallels his frustration and mistreatment. He very much wants to quit, especially as Santini emphatically declares he hates the exploitation of women in his film but must tell the story. What a crock. The highly artistic and intellectual film requires the witches to be stabbed, drowned, and stuck in the vagina with a red hot poker.
There’s also an extremely odd scene in which Santini feeds Gilderoy a grape and tells him to swallow the seed. Er…?
Gilderoy becomes very disturbed by screaming/crying sounds he hears at night. He finds Silvia one night, who warns him about Santini, and reveals that he harassed and sexually assaulted her on set. Finally fed up, she promises to destroy what he loves most and show him the real meaning of a curse.
It gets more surreal from here, and I don’t want to ruin the plot completely, most of which happens in the last 15 or so minutes of the film anyway. One of the big questions of this movie is can you create exploitative art without yourself becoming exploitative?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is pretty light on plot, but extremely atmospheric. There’s a mood of anxiety and confusion that becomes increasingly present as the film goes on, as well as a number of WTF scenes. As soon as Silvia reveals the director’s harassment, the film begins to make a bit more sense–at least in one interpretation.
There is so much screaming in this film, which is so uncomfortable but which all of our characters become virtually immune to. The “Silenzio” flashes in red repeatedly during recording, but it also serves as a reminder to the cast and crew to shut up and stop complaining. This works when thinking about the women harassed in this movie and could more broadly speak to the film industry as a whole.
I am still scratching my head over some of the scenes in this movie (including a short film about the South Downs), and biggest complain is I hoped there was going to be an actual witch and really wanted Silvia to put an actual curse on some dudes.