Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Cold Souls

Theatrical tale, well-acted, heavy on mood but light on meaning.

July 29, 2009

-By Rex Roberts


filmjournal/photos/stylus/99841-Cold_Souls_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Cold Souls starts with an amusing premise—high-tech entrepreneurs devise a way to extract human souls and trade them as commodities—but fails to develop it. Writer and director Sophie Barthes, helming her first feature, shows wit and confidence, and her filmmaking partner, producer and cinematographer Andrij Parekh, captures the wistful, melancholic mood of her script. But the movie’s busy combination of science fiction, satire and absurdity, cloned onto a fairly conventional comedy-drama, favors style over substance. Viewers are encouraged to ponder life’s existential dilemma, but Barthes and Parekh offer only irony and sentiment as cynosures.

Paul Giamatti, playing an actor named Paul Giamatti, finds himself in creative crisis during rehearsals for a production of Uncle Vanya. When he reads about a procedure promising to alleviate angst, he decides to take the cure, which involves a pass through an MRI-like machine that compresses the soul into a portable solid (in Giamatti’s case, a pale pellet resembling a chickpea). Giamatti’s new lightness of being has the opposite effect on his stage work, however, so he rents a substitute soul, that of a Russian poet, to get him through the Chekhov play. The Russian poet proves too weighty for the American thespian, and Giamatti realizes he was better off carting his own spiritual baggage. Unfortunately, a Russian “mule” has stolen his soul to lend to a friend hoping to improve her own acting career in St. Petersburg. Giamatti is forced to fly across the globe in pursuit of himself.

Giamatti, as always, delivers an affecting performance as an actor desperately seeking empathy and inspiration; David Strathairn is even better as the drolly eclept Dr. Flintstein, a metaphysician who literally traffics in souls. The production design by Elizabeth Mickle, from the blanched monochrome of Flintstein’s New York clinic to its black-market counterpart in a decaying warehouse on the St. Petersburg wharf, may be the best thing about the film, visualizing the film’s conceit better than the dialogue.

Therein lies the problem with Cold Souls: Barthes and Parekh don’t have much to say about their subject. Giamatti, as well as Nina (Dina Korzun), the mule whose consciousness has become a mosaic of fragments left over from those she’s transported, never appear much changed by their soul-searching, other than exhibiting a certain disorientation and ill-defined alienation. The human psyche is revealed to be an aggregate of memories, a camcorder capable of replaying past events but unable to make sense of it. Giamatti’s quest to regain his soul lacks suspense, dramatic or philosophical; it’s as though he were in pursuit of a purloined watch that belonged to his great-grandfather…it has sentimental value, but the whole business hardly qualifies as numinous.

Scene by scene, Cold Souls is entertaining. Barthes is a clever writer, destined to be compared to Charlie Kaufman. She and Parekh have the chops to make good films, but they must get beyond mechanics to meaning.


Film Review: Cold Souls

Theatrical tale, well-acted, heavy on mood but light on meaning.

July 29, 2009

-By Rex Roberts


filmjournal/photos/stylus/99841-Cold_Souls_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Cold Souls starts with an amusing premise—high-tech entrepreneurs devise a way to extract human souls and trade them as commodities—but fails to develop it. Writer and director Sophie Barthes, helming her first feature, shows wit and confidence, and her filmmaking partner, producer and cinematographer Andrij Parekh, captures the wistful, melancholic mood of her script. But the movie’s busy combination of science fiction, satire and absurdity, cloned onto a fairly conventional comedy-drama, favors style over substance. Viewers are encouraged to ponder life’s existential dilemma, but Barthes and Parekh offer only irony and sentiment as cynosures.

Paul Giamatti, playing an actor named Paul Giamatti, finds himself in creative crisis during rehearsals for a production of Uncle Vanya. When he reads about a procedure promising to alleviate angst, he decides to take the cure, which involves a pass through an MRI-like machine that compresses the soul into a portable solid (in Giamatti’s case, a pale pellet resembling a chickpea). Giamatti’s new lightness of being has the opposite effect on his stage work, however, so he rents a substitute soul, that of a Russian poet, to get him through the Chekhov play. The Russian poet proves too weighty for the American thespian, and Giamatti realizes he was better off carting his own spiritual baggage. Unfortunately, a Russian “mule” has stolen his soul to lend to a friend hoping to improve her own acting career in St. Petersburg. Giamatti is forced to fly across the globe in pursuit of himself.

Giamatti, as always, delivers an affecting performance as an actor desperately seeking empathy and inspiration; David Strathairn is even better as the drolly eclept Dr. Flintstein, a metaphysician who literally traffics in souls. The production design by Elizabeth Mickle, from the blanched monochrome of Flintstein’s New York clinic to its black-market counterpart in a decaying warehouse on the St. Petersburg wharf, may be the best thing about the film, visualizing the film’s conceit better than the dialogue.

Therein lies the problem with Cold Souls: Barthes and Parekh don’t have much to say about their subject. Giamatti, as well as Nina (Dina Korzun), the mule whose consciousness has become a mosaic of fragments left over from those she’s transported, never appear much changed by their soul-searching, other than exhibiting a certain disorientation and ill-defined alienation. The human psyche is revealed to be an aggregate of memories, a camcorder capable of replaying past events but unable to make sense of it. Giamatti’s quest to regain his soul lacks suspense, dramatic or philosophical; it’s as though he were in pursuit of a purloined watch that belonged to his great-grandfather…it has sentimental value, but the whole business hardly qualifies as numinous.

Scene by scene, Cold Souls is entertaining. Barthes is a clever writer, destined to be compared to Charlie Kaufman. She and Parekh have the chops to make good films, but they must get beyond mechanics to meaning.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Small Time
Film Review: Small Time

You might not buy a used car from the guys in Small Time, but you will enjoy the movie about their exploits, even their exploitations (of others). More »

Fading Gigolo
Film Review: Fading Gigolo

Some top screen talent gets lost in the silliness surrounding the amorous adventures of an unlikely gigolo and his even more unlikely pimp, with writer/director/actor John Turturro the shtupper “ho” co-starring with Woody Allen as the mercenary shtup-enabler. Yarmulkes off to Turturro’s brave but deeply ill-conceived comedic foray into Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community and other alien territory. More »

A Promise
Film Review: A Promise

Handsomely filmed but wan period romance. More »

Final Member
Film Review: The Final Member

Breezy documentary about the aging owner of a small Icelandic museum dedicated to penises and his quest for one last, coveted exhibit is a charmer, thanks to the warmth and sly sense of humor the protagonist brings to his unusual hobby. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Transcendence
Film Review: Transcendence

Johnny Depp is an idealistic researcher whose consciousness is uploaded into an artificial intelligence in this slick techno-thriller with delusions of seriousness from Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer. More »

Draft Day
Film Review: Draft Day

Pro football manager faces crises on the most important day of his career in a well-tooled vehicle for Kevin Costner. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here