Cold Souls

Starring Paul Giamatti, Emily Watson and David Strathairn. Directed by Sophie Barthes.
Rated M (infrequent coarse language) 101 mins.

An unexpected pleasure.

That fine actor, Paul Giamatti, appears here as an actor called Paul Giamatti.  He is in rehearsals in New York for Uncle Vanya but is in the middle of an existential crisis.  He can't do the part.  His agent rings him and suggests reading an article in the New Yorker about an agency which extracts souls and keeps them in storage.  Could that be a solution?  Paul decides to go for an interview – but insists he does not want his soul stored in their warehouse in New Jersey!.

With that premiss,who could resist?

There is an initial quotation from philosopher, Rene Descartes, about where the soul is to be found in the brain.  To enjoy the film and its comic drama about what it is to be soulful and then soul-less, it depends on what one's beliefs are concerning the soul, how material or how spiritual it might be – and can one live without it?  And, even more strangely, what if you rented or had a permanent transplant of somebody else's soul?  After all, you can live with somebody else's kidney or heart, so...?

While Paul Giamatti is doing angst-ridden so convincingly (with Emily Watson playing his bewildered wife), David Strathairn plays Dr Flintstein, the manager of the Soul Storage company, with as much cheerfully nonchalent realism that could contrast with angst.  He has a pleasant answer for every question.

In the meantime, the screenplay parodies the human organ illegal trade and drug smuggling by having Russians do extractions of souls in Russia and use 'mules' to carry the souls as implants to the US.  And this from the land of Uncle Vanya and Chekhov.  One of the mules gets involved with the renting of Paul's soul (pretending that it is Al Pacino's) for a Russian Mafia boss's wife to become a better actress in a soap-opera.

Paul's deal might not seem all that Faustian and Dr Flintstone, sorry, Flintstein, seems a charming Mephistopheles.  The big question is: how does one regain one's soul?  And, should one look inside it to see what is really there?

Apparently, writer-director, Sophie Barthes, based her story on a dream she had.  And, apparently, she gets upset if questioners and reviewers start to make connections with Being Inside John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – but it is difficult not to with their connecting ideas if not their style of film-making.  Be that as it may, Cold Souls is an entertaining comedy drama with the touch of metaphysics.

Madman  Out November 26

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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