Cold Souls 0.0 stars

Off the same wall as Being John Malkovich. Paul Giamatti, being Paul Giamatti, is feeling the burden of his soul in the course of rehearsals for a stage production of Uncle Vanya, unable to locate the requisite lightness of touch. At the suggestion of his agent, the dyspeptic actor tries an option he had never before heard of, though it’s been written up in The New Yorker and listed in the Yellow Pages: soul removal and temporary storage. The resulting lightness, plus emptiness, plus ennui, only worsens his portrayal, so he tries the stopgap solution of renting the soul of an anonymous Russian poet. (The Russians are world leaders in soul trafficking.) By the time he decides he wants his own soul back, it — the exact likeness of a chickpea — has been stolen and transplanted into a Russian TV soap-opera actress under the misapprehension she was getting the soul of Al Pacino (who’s not, let’s be clear, in the movie). Synopsis cannot help but overplay the zaniness. Writer and director Sophie Barthes, whether or not burdened by her own soul, likewise lacks the requisite lightness of touch. An oatmeal-gray image, a whisper-quiet sound level, and a drifting plot propulsion combine to immerse any whimsicality into a miasma of angst and anomie, more suited perhaps to an adaptation of a Camus novel. Even a fantasy, or especially a fantasy, will be expected to some degree to define its terms, to give the audience in this instance an idea of what a soul consists of, what constitutes its purview, what differentiates it from, say, the prefrontal cortex. It’s apparent from Giamatti’s performance that he was given no idea either. David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Dina Korzun, Katheryn Winnick. 2009.

Duncan Shepherd

This movie is not currently in theaters.

Comments

shizzyfinn Aug. 26, 2009 @ 9:49 a.m.

A must-see for fans of Paul Giamatti, who occupies almost every frame. Most other moviegoers, however, can safely avoid this flick.

The concept - Giamatti, playing an unhappy version of himself, visits a doctor who separates people from their souls - is initially intriguing (though the doctor's quirky specialty and his smiling secretary are a little too reminiscent of Lacuna Inc., the memory-erasing small business featured in Charlie Kaufman's incredible Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Dina Korzun also entices early as a Russian soul smuggler who seems troubled by an unhappy past.

But as Cold Souls unfolds, its dark laughs don't come frequently enough, and more importantly, its study of souls and their roles in our lives proves unsatisfying. Giamatti's character sets out experiencing life sans soul; by the time his journey concludes, the audience has experienced a film with little soul of its own.

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