Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio, Dir. Peter Strickland, UK, 2012

Sirin’s review

Gilderoy (Toby Jones), an introverted British sound technician heads to Italy to work for an Italian director, Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) violent horror movie. Out of his comfort zone, he is left face to face with brutal scenes from the movie, naturally this begins to take a toll on him. More and more frustrated, unhappy and isolated, Gilderoy’s mind starts to dissipate.

This is directed Peter Strickland second feature length movie after 2009’s intense but brilliant Katalin Varga. Set in 70’s, lovingly crafted, Berberian Sound Studio is a brilliant homage to Giallo style films of the era. Uncovering the years of analog sound editing before digital invasion took over.

Inspired by many but particularly Italian director  Dario Argento, some of the script touches religious aspects, particularly the hypocrisy behind priests and filmmakers both torturing women for their own agenda. Violence in the horror movie itself kept out of sight. Strickland prefers not to sensationalise but let audience decide on the matter. There are lots of extreme close ups on character’s faces and narrow framing which helps to create a tense claustrophobia and constant anxiousness, while other intense scenes accompanied by only eerie quietness.

According to Strickland, studio in the film is loosely based on Italian composer, Luciano Berio’s own studio. “Berberian” name also an explicit reference based on – once wife of Berio – American Soprano Cathy Berberian. Another interesting reference connects, Italian composer Bruno Maderna, (studio partner of Berio) to some of the dubbing charts in the movie marked as poultry. Bruno Maderna composed the original music in 1968’s Death Laid an Egg (La Morte Ha Fatto I’uovo).

There is one deliberately quite section in the movie to break out its own loop. The odd section refers to Gilderoy’s home town and his love of documentaries, throughout the movie there are subtle clues scattered leading up to it. Berberian Sound Studio shares a rare, delightful insight into film-making, but more importantly emphasising the power of soundtrack through altering our senses in this intense, intelligent, psychological thriller.

Shell’s notes

This film is a strange and beautiful homage to 70s Euro-horror. Perfectly paced, with the most intense, startling and frankly frightening sound design, this is a Lynchian trip to a very strange place. Toby Jones is perfect in the lead role, supported by a solid cast – but the real stars here are the inspired direction and brilliant sound. Enjoyed a this film a great deal. Although, a note for horror fans: No blood and guts here; this is a film about horror films, with Lynchian sensibilities.

The cast stuck around with director Peter Strickland for a Q&A. Photos from Lord Woolamaloo

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Electrick Children

Eletrick Children, Dir. Rebecca Thomas, US, 2012

15 year old Rachel (Julia Garner) has an ordinary existence in a small fundamentalist Mormon community in Utah. She has been interviewed by her father/pastor (Billy Zane) at her birthday. A tape recorder used to document this event, which fuels Rachel’s curiosity. Despite all the rules against it, one night she gets her hands on the recorder and picks a random blue cassette. Listening to a song for the first time – a catchy tune – ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ by The Nerves. This action seems to put her on a path she can’t no longer turn back.

To her mother’s horror Rachel is convinced that she had an immaculate conception through listening this cassette. Her parents reacts to the situation the only way they know by sweeping under the carpet with no further investigation and arrange her to marry another young boy swiftly. Rachel, despite her naivety runs away to Vegas to find the man in the tape, father of her baby. Mr. Will (Liam Aiken), her brother accused of her pregnancy, now an outcast, becomes an unwilling passenger in her journey. Soon they run onto a gang of teenagers which includes emotionally fragile Clyde.

Pregnancy plot is actually isn’t the focal point here only vessel to open the story further. Garner’s performance of Rachel is maybe a little on the over acted side at times but nonetheless a brilliant portrayal of her uncorrupted innocence, unshakable religious beliefs and braveness. Despite all the temptations Rachel encounters in Vegas she doesn’t get corrupted. It also worth noting Culkin is very subtle but skilfully  convincing as a rich, troubled teenager Clyde.

Director Rebecca Thomas herself brought up in a mainstream Mormon community, naturally feels she has sort of an authority to look into the fundamentalist branch of this community’s believes yet prefers not to dig too deep. According to her, this familiarity helped hunting down the right locations matching to her script. Surroundings of isolated grand country side set as a nice contrast against chaotic bright lit city of Vegas which serves to purpose of the story.

At times Electrick Children does rely a little too much in coincidences. However beautifully edited, playfully intimate shots and vibrant over running commentary of Rachel’s words iron over those negatives. Lots of metaphors used by Thomas also gives a more of mystical tale feel.

All and all this sweet tale is a quite enjoyable indie movie about coming of age, strengthen by mesmerising acting and great direction.

Electrick Children is now showing nation wide (UK).

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Trivia

Director, Rebecca Thomas, claims the unusual spelling of the title comes from not being able to secure the domain name at ‘Electric Children’.

Brave

Brave, Dir. Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell, US, 2012

Viewed as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012

Set in Scottish Highlands, free-spirited Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), has little interest in her future royal responsibilities. She hopes one day she will be able to change her own fate. By not following traditions, she risks bringing her own kingdom into chaos.

Brave is Pixar’s first attempt at an historical tale with a strong female protagonist. Audiences familiar with the work of Studio Ghibli (a Pixar influence) will recognise a strong female lead, but this is unusual for Pixar. Hopefully strong-headed Merida won’t be the last of her kind.

The story’s premise is very simple and once plot is set, it doesn’t wander too far from its expected story arc. Having a proper Scottish voice cast is brilliant, and it’s impossible imagine how they could have pulled it off without them. The quality of animation is what is expected from a Pixar movie. Textures of tartans, animal furs, worn off edges of furnitures, ancient castle, it is all wonderful to look at. Compared to previous movies, the choice of colours are more subdued and limited. This allows Merida’s wonderfully crafted ginger locks pop.

Brave is a coming of age story, believing in yourself to take charge of your own fate, draw your own part, all you need is just to be brave. Perhaps nothing groundbreaking, however this epic and magical tale is very enjoyable and the movie packed with humour, whit, action and some teary moments. You can skip the 3D, though, as it adds little, and watch in 2D instead.

Brave will be on general release in the UK in August.

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Kotoko – EIFF 2012

Kotoko, Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto, Japan, 2011

That Kotoko (J-Pop star, Cocco) sees doppelgängers is the least of her problems. These doppelgängers have tendency to attack her viciously, and she is unsure who is real when attempting to defend herself. Kotoko with her newly born son Daijiro, tries to lead a normal life constantly moving around to avoid further confrontation. Her ever growing parental anxieties coupling with the existing mental issues, child care services finally gets involved and takes Daijiro away temporarily.

She is devastated and desperate to have her son back in her life. At this point a writer Seitaro Tanaka (Shinya Tsukamoto) enters her life against her will. She is guarded and does everything to keep him away as long as she can. But he is unconditionally and mysteriously drawn to her.

With her violent outbursts, it is easy to see why she wants to be as away from everyone as possible. All she wants to create a safe haven for herself and her son. We are left most of the time not sure what is real what has imagined in Kotoko’s mind. She tests her own reality by self-mutilation, cutting herself to see if she is still alive. But she has no intention of dying. Between this horror,  there is also some dark humour, one of the self-mutilation attacks manages to break the tension most unexpectedly.

Crash zooms, shaky cam work pull us perfectly inside the Kotoko’s disturbing mind. We become a passenger involuntarily inside her mind while she is terrified and desperate. Never explained whether she was born or became this way later on, perhaps not relevant.

Some of the ideas to Kotoko’s plot – according to Tsukamoto’s own words – came from the various conversations he had with singer Cocco and her own experiences. Despite this vulnerability Cocco’s first proper acting debut is stunning. Soundtrack also helps adding even more intensity throughout, so as the colour themes in different locations reflecting Kotoko’s ever changing mood.

This film is violent and bloody, not to mention intense, something we are come to expect from Shinya Tsukamoto’s earlier works such as Tetsuo. But this shouldn’t put you off as while this film is a terrifying journey into Kotoko’s madness it is brilliantly executed. All credits to Tsukamoto and Cocco, this disturbing and tragic story is one which you may never be able to forget.

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Dragon – EIFF 2012 Preview

Wu xia, Dragon, Dir. Peter Chan, China, 2011

In 1917, Southwestern China, one calm morning, we are  introduced to a papermaker Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen) and his family at a picturesque village. But his quite existence soon changes irreversibly when two robbers turn up at his village. He ends up murdering them which prompts an investigation.

Xu Bai-ju (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a forensic detective with an eye for detail seems to be troubled with the precision of these murders. But village elders who are happy to see the robbers dead, reward Jin-xi regardless. Xu’s talents don’t end there as he is also passionately knowledgable about the Chinese health art of Acupuncture.

Thanks to Xu, we soon realise Jin-xi may not be as ordinary as he wants everyone to believe he is. So, the hard task of start uncovering the truth of about his past begins.

First half particularly has some narrative similarities with TV’s Sherlock. First of all, there is the comical tone then the flashbacks of the detective Xu trying to re-imagine the crime the way it could have been committed in his head. The rest of the movie is more martial art heavy but thankfully doesn’t get as cliche as it could have been.

Directed by Peter Chan, both Yen and Kaneshiro’s portrayal of their part is decent so as is the action.

The film’s English title is far form the original which perhaps emphasis the martial art nature of the film for western audiences. Nevertheless, we would recommend  this fun packed detective story come martial art movie, interesting to both genre and non-genre fans.\n\nScreenings (part of EIFF):

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Postcards from the Zoo – EIFF 2012 Preview

Kebun binatang, (Postcards from the Zoo), Dir. Edwin, Indonesia/Germany/Hong Kong/China, 2012

Indonesian director Edwin’s new film, Postcards from the Zoo opens up with a dreamlike sequence of a very cute, young girl wondering alone in a forest, searching for her dad. She is so small, hardly manages to climb up the stairs in night’s darkness. Soon we realise she is in a massive zoo/leisure complex. Abandoned by her father, Lana (Ladya Cheryl) gets to be raised inside the zoo, this is where her obsession with giraffes begins. She becomes particularly keen on lonely giraffe at Ragunen Zoo.

As well as child-like natured Lana, giraffe also seems to have its own enigma surrounding him. One character in film suggests giraffes are the catalysts for imperialism, another one suggests they never bow and prideful animals. Arabic word for giraffe means fast-walker but whole film has completely the opposite pace.

Film’s narrative is segmented into chapters based around zoological terms, such as zoo, ex-situ conservation, endemic, reintroduction and translocation. Each time we get a new word, the narrative changes to reflect that concept. Lana is grown up to become a woman, still hanging around in the zoo, giving tours to visitors, washing and feeding animals and riding her cow bus alone at night which could be easily lifted out of a Studio Ghibli anime. She is oblivious to the outside world, easily mesmerised by a new resident, a cowboy magician who joins to inhabitants of the zoo. After hearing that ordinary people who made the zoo their home are no longer welcomed by the government, she leaves the zoo behind to join the magician and becomes his assistant dressed as an Indian girl. Rest of the film is set mostly grubby outside world.

Without giving too much away, all these segments also metaphors for situations Lana finds herself in. Regardless of dangers of the outside world, Lana needs to take this journey to get where she should be.

One of a kind Lana’s journey from safe and nurturing environment of the zoo to material orientated, exploitative nature of the outside world, perhaps is one extreme to another. Magical environment so lovingly created in the zoo somewhat gets spoilt by the reality of the world beyond its gates. Slow-paced and beautifully shot, there is a certain odd magical feel to Postcards from the Zoo.

If you are a fan of Edwin’s previous work or like slow-burners, we’d say go see it.

Shadow Dancer – EIFF 2012 Preview

Shadow Dancer, Dir. James Marsh, UK, Ireland, 2011

Director James Marsh is probably best known at the Edinburgh International Film Festival for last years moving documentary ‘Project Nim’, and more generally for his mesmerising documentary ‘Man on a Wire’. What we have here is something quite different. Andrea Riseborough is outstanding in the role of Colette McVeigh, active IRA member, recruited by MI5 man Mac (Clive Owen, solid but no stretch) as an informant.

Tense, slow burning plot sucks us in, and it soon becomes edge of the seat stuff. Supporting roles are excellently played, with a business-like Gillian Anderson popping up as Mac’s boss. You’ll also find some wonderful cinematography, especially in the lingering shots in the opening scenes.

It’s a shame the Mac’s role couldn’t have been explored a little more, and the film ‘feels’ like it perhaps would’ve made a better mini-series, giving Marsh room to explore some of the more complex politics and the relationships between Colette’s family members. The story itself doesn’t have hold many surprises – or rather, we’ve seen much of this before. But it doesn’t matter here, because the tight direction and great performances all around (especially Riseborough), this thriller works well. Catch it at a screen if you can.

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¡Vivan Las Antipodas! – EIFF 2012 Preview

¡Vivan Las Antipodas!, Dir. Victor Kossakovsky, Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, Chile, 2011

Veteran documentary maker Victor Kossakovsky comes back to big screen with his first feature length documentary since 2003’s Hush. Vivan Las Antipodas! takes us to an expedition to the different parts of the world. Documentary’s premise comes from the antipodes on Earth. Antipodes are places diametrically opposite of each other on Earth’s surface – a straight line drawn from one to the other will pass through centre of the planet. However both antipodes coinciding on dry land is a rare occasion because Earth is mostly covered by oceans.

Documentary starts with announcing these antipodes, they could not be any more different than each other. Firstly, We are taken to rural Entre Rios in Argentina, this is the part with most dialog, we meet with two brothers running a toll bridge over a river. Argentina’s stunning scenery gives a way to the noisy, smoky city of Shanghai in China. From here we jump to a sheep farmer in Patagonia in Chile then its antipode, mother and daughter at Lake Baikal in Russia. Contrast to all beautiful and fertile lands we’ve been introduced to so far we are suddenly left with constantly shifting black, barren, volcanic land of Big Island in Hawaii, couple of isolated families trying to go about their normal life. Its antipode is Botswana, with a slow pace of life could be interrupted anytime by presence of a lion family. Then we are taken to our last antipodes, Miraflores in Spain and Castle point in New Zealand. One is a rocky mountain top with butterflies hatching, the other one has a whale washed up dead onto its beach. These locations completed with ever changing beautiful soundtrack.

Stunningly shot, Vivan Las Antipodas! is more playful than BBC’s Planet Earth with the up-side down shots, spins and slides, pushing the idea of antipodes as far as it goes. Parts of the scenery presented at times like an abstract painting – not sure which way is the right way up. Locations become more and more integrated and somehow connected despite the vast distances between them. Whereabouts where we are becomes irrelevant, it becomes more about the experience of its inhabitants.

This skilfully shot evocative documentary by Kossakovsky is a master-class worth seeing.

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Tokyo Drifter – EIFF 2012 Preview

Tokyo dorifuta, Dir. Tetsuaki Matsue, Japan 2011

Tokyo Drifter (Tokyo Dorifuta) sees second collaboration between director Tetsuaki Matsue and singer-songwriter Kenta Maeno. Unlike 2009’s Live Tape (Raibu Tepu), this time Maeno travels through Shibuya to Ginza under the dimmed neon lights of Tokyo. Shot on a rainy night, only couple of months after Great Tohoku earthquake, the effects of power saving measures due to shortages can be seen clearly. Whether you’ve been to Tokyo or seen in films, you have never seen it like this, especially places like famous Shibuya crossing.

We follow charismatic Kenta Maeno through this unfamiliar darkness of Tokyo, as he sings with his guitar about life, love, women and Tokyo, his upbeat and occasionally angry remarks are ignored by passerby’s. It is shot at very low-def intentionally, this helps with capturing the mood of this recently shaken metropolis. Blurry, dark and shaky images turn previously easily recognisable places into less familiar, more sketchy silhouettes. We observe through the night as he eats his noodles, get some fuel and sings even while riding his bike. Moving through the city is the main theme. Particularly, shots of his walking through a rail-crossing and later painting like backdrop on a H&M’s store windows are very notable.

This tone-down version of a redefined Tokyo seems to be able to bring out emotions of unity and hope unlike usual isolation it imposes on its habitants.

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