Cold Souls. Sophie Barthes (writer/director). Film.
I had the privliedge of seeing this movie way in advance last spring at the New Directors/New Films Film Festival in NYC. We saw it at Walter Reade Theater (one of my favorite theaters in the city) and it was one of those kind of perfect movie experiences. Seeing something in advance of everyone else is always pretty cool…but seeing something really good in advance of everyone is WAY cool. I didn’t originally plan to write a review of this film as I rarely do film reviews on this blog, but as its release date came closer I realized I wanted to write about it – if only to help it (not like this tiny blog actually gets any people out to the movies) but it makes me feel like I’m helping – and that’s almost as important (not really).
[Mild Spoilers – in plot summary]
The Good: Paul Giamatti playing Paul Giamatti works as brilliantly here as it did when John Malkovich played himself in Being John Malkovich. And this film borrows lightly from Being John Malkovich in the sense that the sensibility is the same – a dark funny offbeat comedy set in a very real world, with one very interesting twist. In Being John Malkovich that was obviously that you could go through a hole in a wall and be inside John Malkovich, in Cold Souls it’s that the soul of a person can be removed and stored and replaced later (if the person so desires) and that you can even try on other souls for size.
I think writer/director Sophie Barthes’ brilliance here is that her concept is totally original and wonderfully executed, but that she never takes her concept too seriously. The soul, as Giamatti quickly finds out, is a troublesome little thing, that though it can weigh you down, life is pretty not good without one. And so Giamatti returns to have his soul, well, returned. Unfortunately his soul has been lost/stolen and the hunt begins for him to get it back. Cold Souls fully explores this slightly fictional world and with interesting results.
The wonderful Dina Korzun (Forty Shades Of Blue) plays Nina, a soul trafficking mule, that tries to help Giamatti get his soul back, while also dealing with her own complicated life and the harsh ramifications of trafficking in souls. Giamatti’s soul has been taken by the gorgeous but horrible Sveta, the girlfriend of the head honcho on the Russian side of the soul removal operation. Sveta (played wonderfully by Katheryn Winnick) is a Russian soap actress that has been told Giamatti’s actor soul is actually the actor soul of Al Pacino, and once she has it, she’s not inclined to give it back, liking the way it feels, and believing that it will strengthen her acting chops.
Smaller performances by powerhouses Emily Watson as Giamatti’s wife Claire; David Strathairn as apologetic Dr. Flintstein; and Lauren Ambrose as lab assistant Stephanie, only gives extra weight to an already fantastic cast full of beautiful character performances led masterfully by Paul Giamatti.
The movie is full of surprises – both in how it all plays out – and in how darkly funny it is, while still managing to tackle thought provoking ideas.
The Bad: I honestly can’t think of anything. I suppose it’s possible that there are small nitpicky things that I didn’t like when I saw this months ago, but in retrospect I can’t recall anything but the good stuff…which speaks well for the film in the end.
The Ugly: Nothing. I love the way this movie looks and feels. It’s beautifully shot and actually feels cold throughout and to good effect – from the sorrow in Giamatti (pre and post soul removal); to the clinical futuristic offices and labs; to the stunning Russian landscapes and the poverty and plight of some of its citizens forced to sell their souls on the black market.
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