Saturday, 9 April 2011

Cold Souls

What about combining an independent comedy drama with some sci-fi? Cold Souls tries to do that. It’s a 2009 film, written and directed by Sophie Barthes, that most people missed. That’s a pity, because, unlike Cyrus, this indie comedy drama has some truly hilarious moments (mostly in the first half) as well as some intense drama and it just generated a very stimulating discussion at my Friday film night.

Cold Souls stars Paul Giamatti as an actor named Paul Giamatti. One could say it shouldn’t require great acting to play yourself, but he does get to play himself without a soul and with someone else’s soul, so that would make it a little more challenging. In any event, Giamatti was a perfect choice for the role (it felt like it was written with him in mind).

Giamatti is rehearsing a Chekhov play (Uncle Vanya) when he becomes overwhelmed by his identification with his role. A friend refers him to a company that can extract and store his soul for awhile (long enough to finish the play) and the hilarity begins (David Strathairn is great as the company’s doctor/salesman/CEO). At first, Giamatti seems to enjoy his life more without a soul but things go downhill fast (e.g.his acting ability has disappeared along with his soul). Maybe the answer is renting someone else’s soul for awhile.

You get the idea. Much of Cold Souls also concerns the black market soul extraction business in Russia and the Russian woman who works as the “mule” bringing these altitude-sensitive souls into the U.S. Having almost a third of the film filmed in St. Petersburg in winter adds a unique exotic feel to the film which I enjoyed.

But what is Cold Souls really about? One of my film night guests described it as a parody of the bankruptcy of the American Dream. People have so much but it’s never enough. So they turn to drugs or alcohol or soul extraction. But all of these are focused on ‘me’, when the answer lies in turning the focus away from ‘me’ to caring for others. Cold Souls implies that such caring is impossible without a soul (makes sense) and that some souls are more inclined towards this than others. It implies other things as well, like the role of key memories in the make-up of the soul, but I have said far too much already.

Cold Souls has great cinematography, an original plot, and some excellent acting. It does drag at points and it really doesn’t do an adequate job of developing the ‘soul’ part of the plot, but it’s a lot of fun as well as moving and thought-provoking. ***+ My mug is up.


  1. Another one that I was going to pass on after seeing the trailer. I did think some of the material would be thought-provoking (and I can see how a movie night would generate discussion on this), but overall the trailer made it seem too depressive. Have I told you how much I hate depressive movies? Sounds like the humour helps prevent that.

  2. Overall, I have to say that Cold Souls is on the depressive side. In fact, if I think about it, I could not recommend this film to someone who hates deprssive films. In that sense, Cyrus might be more to your liking.