Cold Souls (film, 2009)
A review from SFX 194.
Director: Sophie Barthes
Writer: Sophie Barthes
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathairn
THREE STARS EXTRAS: HALF A STAR
And a polite, if perplexed, clap from the British audience
This is one of those odd films we can blame Charlie Kaufman for, a weird, introspective slipstream thing yanked from some cosy den of obtuse intellectualism Off Broadway and deposited in front of the glare of the movie lights. Well received upon release, probably nobody really understood it yet no-one wanted to say so. Our reaction? Somewhere between ‘Meh’, ‘Huh?’, and ‘Pretty’, with precious little ‘Wow.’
Actor Paul Giamatti plays fictionalised actor Paul Giamatti, when he’s really actually playing Paul Giamatti – the movie star composite of all his previous roles. There’s his trademark grumpiness, and tears, with introspection of a kind you could only either get from a depressed Scandinavian or, as here, from the therapy-saturated East Coast of the USA. Giamatti finds his role in Unlce Vanya too much to bear, so opts to have his soul removed in order to lighten his existential load. Once out, however, he loses his acting chops and when he asks for his soul back, he discovers it has been implanted in a talentless Russian sitcom actress, wife of the chief badass Russian soul trafficker.
The film pootles along in poignant manner as Giamatti does the picaresque thing and sets off to retrieve his missing ineffability. The trouble is, we’re not entirely sure what it’s being poignant about. There’s some vague fumbling around what makes us what we are, and a suggestion that we’re all siblings under the skin, but it’s far from explicit. Actually, the message is so coded, it’s far from implicit.
It’s a beautifully shot and acted piece, but its languid pace will not suit everybody. We’d say the lack of a satisfactory resolution would neither, but there’s really nothing to resolve. Guy Haley
DVD Extras: A trailer.
Did you know…?
Writer/ director Sophie Barthes pitched the concept of Cold Souls to Giamatti at a film festival, he accepted there and then.