Film review: Cold Souls

In Cold Souls actor Paul Giamatti plays himself, albeit as a New York stage actor, struggling through rehearsals for the Chekhov play Uncle Vanya. Perhaps quite apt for his role in a drama which deals with the theme of a wasted life, Giamatti feels sombre and complains he has trouble separating the character of Uncle Vanya from his own. In jest, his agent recommends an article in The New Yorker about a company which removes and stores people's souls, promising a lighter existence. Curiosity gets the better of Giamatti. He visits the company’s sleek office and decides to have his soul removed. His new soulless existence disappoints however, and before long Giamatti wants his old spirit back, imperfect as it may be. To be reunited with it, the actor is forced into some serious soul searching - quite literally, as his soul has been stolen and smuggled out of New York. Writer-director Sophie Barthes was inspired to make Cold Souls after reading Modern man in search of a soul, by analytical psychologist C.G. Jung. She says her first full length feature film playfully deals with philosophical concepts. She describes Cold Souls as an ‘existential tragic comedy, with elements of absurdity, satire and deadpan humour…with some melancholic moments.’ It is an ambitious promise which the film sadly does not deliver on. While the premise of having your soul removed and put in a jar may sound absurd, the film does not succeed as a tragic comedy. The scarce comedic moments in the film are too predictable for that. Moreover, the film breathes a melancholic, sullen atmosphere. The cinematography sees to that with endless shots of dusky New York back streets, dimly lit hotels and an icy, grim Saint Petersburg. Cold Souls does not escape the emptiness which grips Giamatti. It is not particularly tragic or funny and the big existential questions at the heart of Bartes' film are trivialised to such an extent that they lose their thought-provoking magic. (PHILIP HOFMAN)

Directed by Sophie Barthes
Starring: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Dina Korzun

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