Cold Souls Reviews
As we enter into the world of first time writer/director Sophie Barthes we see Giamatti struggling to find the right "voice" for Uncle Vanya (and somehow I wonder why it is that Chekov still gets all the juice on the boards... if I see another revival of Vanya or Cherry Orchard I'm going to slit my wrists or read some Russian Poetry, whichever kills me first!).
Of course the above little asides are the kind of wry, sarcastic humor that this pseudo satire cashes in on, but for me, the satiric moments were too few and came only after slogging through some tedious bits of unimaginative setup and scenes that were meant to be funny (in that satiric kind of way) but simply weren't as far as I'm concerned.
The fresh idea of the film (which I wish could have been better handled) has to do with the ability to extract the soul from a human body (and replace it with someone else's if desired). Giamatti perceives that he is so weighed down by the heaviness of his own soul that he decides to replace his with the soul of a Russian Poet (all the better to get inside his role of Vanya, he surmises). From this premise the film flitters around, allowing for a nice bit of satire when the Russian mob gets involved in the soul selling business; but while watchable, I was neither grinning from the dark humor, nor glued to the chair by any kind of drama. This yin/yang of drama/dark comedy is at odds with itself as some of the more absurd moments derail any dramatic value.
Similarly Barthes doesn't seem quite sure which route to take - the first half seems serious (and fails as a dramatic engine), while the second half, and especially when the film moves to St. Petersburg, seems much more tongue in cheek (and it is here that the moments of inventive dark satire occur).
I really wanted to enjoy this film and am going to give it a passing grade just for the concept alone - but as the closing credits rolled I sat back and wondered at how much more could have been said and how so many of the satiric moments could have either been better evolved or left on the cutting room floor. At least there weren't three sisters sitting in a broken down manor house saying that they simply must go to Moscow.
Actor Paul Giamatti plays an actor named Paul Giamatti who, while rehearsing for Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, feels his soul become burdened under the weight of the material. To remedy the situation, he goes to a company that extracts and stores people's stores. You can also swap out your soul for someone else's if you so desire. Now soulless, Giamatti is able to get through the play, but now he also finds life without his own soul more intoelrable than before.
He tries to go get his soul back, but through a snafu, his soul has been taken and sold on the black market and is now being used by a Russian soap opera actress in St. Petersburg. With the help of the "soul mule" Giamatti goes to Russia to reclaim what's his, in a new twist on the term soul searching.
This is a wild concept, and, though the end result is pretty polarizing, I found it to be a lot of fun. It is a very cold and clinical film, and while there is humor, it is extremely dry and dark in nature. There are a couple of parts that are legitimately laugh out loud funny, but the bulk of the humor is very offbeat.
What keeps the film from beign a total rip-off is that things are more accessible here than they are with some od Kaufman's works. Sure, there's his influence on the material, but it definitely holds up as being it's own kind of thing. It also helps that the actors give some wonderful performances, especially Giamatti who has to portray himself with and without his own soul (and yes, there are differences, no matter how subtle). David Strathairn is also fun as the head of the soul extraction company, and for me it was nice to see Lauren Ambrose as the doctor's assistant, though I wish she'd had more screentime and had mroe to do. Emily Watson adds some weight to the proceedings in a small but important role as Paul's wife, but for me, the two standouts other than Giamatti are Dina Korzun as the mule and Katheryn Winnick as the Russian actress.
All in all, this is an enjoyable and really well done film. I may be overly enthusiastic, but I can't help it. The film just really spoke to me, and was just the thing I needed to watch after a sleepless night before a super long day at work.
It's along the same quirky lines as say Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind or Being John Malcovich, but with little of the heart or charm of either of those two films.
Once the soul is extracted, the people don't seem to display any different characteristics than before. Their dreams become clouded with phantom memories of their new souls' previous owner. Paul Giamatti is in Uncle Vanya. You can store your soul in New Jersey and avoid sales tax. Russia is somehow (or typically) involved in black market shenanigans. The movie essentially throws too much out at the audience and never really forms itself into a cohesive, jointed motion picture. It strives to be something between Woody Allen's Sleeper and Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but fails miserably at it. It tries to hide under the mask of randomness for randomness' sake, but it all feels very calculated.
Basically, there are funny moments; poignant situations; philosophical ruminations; religious paradigms; paradoxical questions of ethics and much, much more. But when it comes right down to it, you don't know where to focus your attention and you don't know how to feel about the characters because you don't know what kind of film you're watching. Are you supposed to be laughing? Crying? Feeling sorry? Feeling hungry?
The movie definitely has redeeming qualities--however few they may be. Paul Giamatti is a great actor and he does his best with a character in a movie that he probably didn't know was going to end up feeling so cold. His performance is as not nearly as multi-faceted as the film itself; but it is much more interesting than the film itself. If you're a fan of Mr.Giamatti (who plays himself in the film, by the way) then see the movie. If not, then don't.
You won't miss out on much.
One criticism is that the somberness goes a bit too far in the second half of the film. The gloomy tone is weakened a bit by its relentlessness. I would encourage Barthes to think more about the power of shifting moods. Barthes breaks up the gloom quite well in the first half, but the last hour of the film gets a bit monotonous.
I also think there is too much similarity to the work of Charlie Kaufman. I'm fairly certain that every viewer will be reminded of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" especially, but also "Being John Malkovich" and "Synecdoche, New York." In her next few films, Barthes will need to strive to come up with ideas less apt to be perceived as derivative. There are qualities she has that go well beyond the Kaufman-esque. As an example, Barthes has a gift for international communication and empathy that is stunning and distinctive. I hope in the future she emphasizes qualities such as these. ("Cold Souls" is filmed in the U.S. and Russia and has an international cast.)
Paul Giamatti plays a character much like himself. In fact, the character (in a slightly pretentious and unnecessary attempt at postmodernism) is named Paul Giamatti. He is a film and stage actor who resembles Woody Allen in his protracted and slightly comical existential angst. There are some comic elements in Giamatti's portrayal, but for the most part "Cold Souls" is more haunting and disturbing than zany. Many people in the film are seriously broken, and watching their distress is not at all funny.
At the start of the film, Giamatti is in rehearsals for a major production of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," where he has the leading role. Plagued with self-doubt and anxiety and wearied by his many years of angst, the actor has an open mind when he learns of an experimental process whereby people have their souls extracted from their bodies. It makes you feel "lighter," everyone says who has gone through it. Life is made a bit more simple and easy. Desperate and barely able to handle life, the actor decides to try it.
The funniest scenes come when he first learns about the procedure from the chief scientist (a long-haired David Strathairn) and his blithely oblivious assistant (Lauren Ambrose). Especially hilarious is Giamatti's reaction when he sees his extracted soul and it resembles a chickpea.
Barthes interweaves a separate storyline that is initially enigmatic but gradually is clarified for the viewer. It involves a Russian woman who visits the soul-extracting facility frequently and is often in a mysterious kind of stupor. All is not right with this woman; that much is clear. Especially disturbing are the ethereal visions she occasionally has of a group of children in what looks like a Russian orphanage. Played by an astonishing Russian actress named Dina Korzun, this character brings immeasurable depth to the film. I hope Korzun is given consideration for Best Supporting Actress come awards time.
Gradually the mystery of the Russian woman is solved, and this is when the film becomes more serious and disturbing. I will not spoil the surprise by divulging the details. I'll just say that this woman's experience gives her a unique vantage point from which to contemplate the inner lives of many other people.
We come to learn more about Giamatti as well, including a gorgeous, deeply moving tour of his soul. The sequences where the viewer is taken literally inside someone's soul were the trickiest in the film, and Barthes pulls it off with delicacy and grace.
Welcome to the world of filmmaking, Ms. Barthes. I hope you're with us for a very long time.
A very weird and deep comedy starring Paul Giamatti as himself. This film feels very much like a story from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, but its not. This is an original story with some obvious influences. Its funny, clever, and has a few elements of greatness that elevate it a bit more.
Paul Giamatti is trying to get ready for a play, but is having trouble separating himself from his characters as an actor. To solve this problem, Paul decides to involve himself in a high tech company that he read about in the New Yorker. This company practices the extraction of the soul from the body. Headed by Dr. Flinstein, played hilariously droll by David Strathairn, the company literally removes the soul from the body and places it in cold storage.
Paul goes through with the procedure and becomes somewhat different from his more neurotic persona he was previously dealing with at first. But soon, Paul must deal with how different he is from before and decides to have a different soul placed inside him, to help him with his acting and keep him more balanced.
Eventually, however, Paul is overcome with feelings about having a different soul in his body and wants to have his own soul back. It is at this point the film converges Paul's story with another subplot involving soul trafficking to Russia, as Paul discovers that his soul is missing.
Dr. Flinstein: This has never happened before. We probably shipped it to our New Jersey where house.
Paul: Oh, god...
The story involving Paul is very good. Its clever, its funny, and it made me very curious as to where it would take me. The other story involving a soul trafficker is less engrossing at first, but once the film converged both story lines, I became much more interested.
The comedy in this movie is somewhat subdued, but when the film starts to deal with what these people are seeing with these different souls, the movie did become even more interesting. There is a scene late in the film involving Paul's reaction to a certain event that was just beautiful.
Speaking of Paul, Giamatti is great here. He's playing an exaggerated version of himself as this neurotic guy, probably heading into a midlife crisis who stumbles across this company. Everything about his adventures involving this soul removal process is well handled.
This is an obscure little title that few will come across, but its well done and enjoyable.
Oleg: We thought we were getting Al Pacino's soul.
Paul: Well, I'm very sorry things didn't work out with...Al Pacino.
One other note: Emily Watson is miscast. Not because she's a poor actress or the wrong physical type, but because Giamatti's wife should have been played by someone who isn't a marquee name. When you have a film starring Paul Giamatti as Paul Giamatti, it just doesn't work to have Emily Watson portraying his wife. Every time she comes onscreen, the mind burns extra calories, thinking "Wait, is Emily Watson playing herself too? Is Emily Watson married to Paul Giamatti? Oh right, she's just the wife here, and isn't supposed to be a famous person." Or at least, that's how it was for me.
The film needed a rewrite. I felt that the film lacked a certain style that it needed. I think another director could have brought a stronger style that was needed. On a positive, a lot of the dialog is good. Some scenes are really good and even funny at times.
Actingwise, Giamatti is great in the lead role. David Strathairn is great in his role. He kind of reminded me of Tom Wilkinson's role in Eternal Sunshine. Dina Korzun is also good in the film too. Lauren Ambrose kind of reminded me of Kirsten Dunst's role in Eternal Sunshine.
The film could have been much better. However, the film is worth checking out, especially cause of Giamatti's performance.