I love love love love loved “Cold Souls.” That might be because I love love love Paul Giamatti. (Could it be that I am one of the few twenty-somethings in the world that finds him and those snaggly teeth a bit sexy?) And there is plenty of Giamatti in this witty look at our attachment to the soul.
Paul Giamatti – playing himself – is starring in an off-Broadway production of Uncle Vanya and he’s having a difficult time. The role is too much for him; it’s weighing him down and causing stomachaches. So Paul finds a solution: soul removal. A company offering to “de-soul the body (or disembody the soul)” catches Paul’s eye and he goes through the process, only to find that his soul is the size and shape of a chickpea and that he is fairly functionless without it. The film also follows the lucrative and dangerous soul trafficking business in Russia, headed by a rich Russian and his actress wife who desires the soul of a famous actor (preferably Al Pacino). Crazy antics ensue, as I’m sure you can image.
Conceived in a Jung-inspired dream of director Sophie Barthes – whose very name suggests brilliance – “Cold Souls” is simultaneously a successful comedy and introspective drama. What would it feel like to be soulless? Apparently it feels a lot like being high. Giamatti is shocked by his feet, wears flamboyant clothing, and plays Uncle Vanya like Rodney Dangerfield might. But it also feels a bit empty, a bit lonely, and a little depressing (in a soulless kind of way). The film explores our inability and refusal to “look inside” and really try to understand our unconscious.
As reviews pop up about “Cold Souls” comparisons to Kaufman’s “Being John Malkovich” and Gondry’s “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” are running rampant. This is a self-referential contemporarily set sci-fi (does this constitute its own genre yet?) but don’t be fooled, this is a film all its own. More straightforward than both Kaufman films, “Cold Souls” manages to be compelling without any clever plot twists, drawing attention to the performances and cinematography (Andrij Parekh) as much as it does to the writing.