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Cold Souls

Writer-director Sophia Barthes’ existential dark comedy Cold Souls is as close to an homage to Charlie Kaufman that a film can get. Barthes channels both a quasi-factual/fictional role for Paul Giamatti a la John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich, and the happy emptiness post-medical procedure as displayed in Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind.

Rehearsing for the title role in Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Paul (Giamatti) begins to feel the the playwright’s sorrow. Adhering to his agent’s recommendation, the melancholy thespian turns to a high-tech company profiled in The New Yorker called Soul Storage to alleviate his suffering by extracting his soul. Dr. Flinstein (David Strathairn) offers the exhausted actor a less complicated life with a temporary soul-removal. Emotional weight be gone!

Realizing his acting role requires the anguish that he removed, Paul asks to be loaned the soul of a Russian poet, strengthening the character’s performance. But when his new soul begins to negatively affect his off-stage life, he requests his original soul back.

Told that his old soul has been trafficked to a Russian soap opera actress who believes she is channeling a Hollywood movie star, Paul travels to Russia on a recovery mission, enlisting the help of soul mule Nina (Dina Korzun).

This very well may be Giamatti’s strongest performance. Tyepcast as, well, himself, Giamatti is able to delve into the depths of a dejected thespian and does what only the best actors can do—act as a bad one. Strathairn is excellent and Korzun overcomes a thinly written role to deliver a performance worth noting. Although underused, Emily Watson is stirring as Giamatti’s wife.

Cinematographer Andrij Parekh adeptly interprets Barthes’ metaphysical comedy, beautifully shooting the dismal real world as well as the neurotic unconsciousness of Giamatti. Barthes effectively narrates Giamatti’s inward quest, encouraging the audience to do the same.

Intelligent and provocative, Cold Souls is as intricate as a Kaufman film, yet, somehow, simpler.

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