Cold Souls

They say your body loses 21 grams when you die… but what happens when you lose your soul? In this Kaufmanesque dark comedy, Paul Giamatti plays a character called… Paul Giamatti, a theatre actor struggling with the title role in a production of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya. In order to lighten the burden, he goes to a futuristic-looking facility and has his soul extracted and stored. But when he finds the soulless life just as unbearable, he goes back to the doctors—only they’ve misplaced the container. At first they think it might have been sent to their warehouse in New Jersey, but it turns out that it’s in Russia. Meanwhile, Paul has imbibed the soul of a Russian poet, and has become involved with a woman who specialises in soul trafficking—a soul mule. So he goes to St. Petersburg to recover his soul which is being kept warm by the ditzy soap-opera star wife of a rich Mafioso type who runs the soul-extraction racket there. The germ for the film came to writer-director Sophie Barthes in a dream: she and a bunch of people were sitting in a waiting room holding boxes containing their souls. She couldn’t open her own, but Woody Allen was sitting next to her, and his soul looked like a chickpea. In the vein of I Huckabees and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, although not quite as frankly comic as either, this is a superbly-made, witty and intelligent film with a well-chosen cast including Lauren Ambrose, Emily Watson and David Strathairn. To top it off, the cinematography by Barthes’ husband Andrij Parekh (Half Nelson) is at once stark and warmly inviting.

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