If you were able to temporarily lock up your soul safely in cold storage would you do it? It would be painlessly sucked out and placed in a cylindrical tube available to you at anytime if you should need it returned to its natural environment. Medical history has seen various methods in which soul destruction was a result and so soul extraction, the premise of Sophie Barthes debut film Cold Souls, is surreal but doesn’t seem that unbelievable.
Lead actor Paul Giamatti, plays him-self. He is struggling through his rehearsals of a Chekhov play and feeling miserable in the process. Upon the advice of a friend and after reading a New Yorker article on the subject he decides soul extraction may cure his angst.
Giamatti has some concerns but doesn’t seem too troubled by the soul extraction specialists’ nonchalant attitude to the procedure or to underground operations involving transportation of souls through a Russian mule. Dr. Flintstein, played by David Strathairn, is upfront about his operation still being in its experimental stages admitting that they don’t know much about its effects. After going through various procedures in Dr. Flintstein’s office, including renting a Russian poets soul, Giamatti finally ends up in Russia in search of his smuggled soul.
Cold Souls has been compared to Kaufman’s screenplay, Being John Malkovich, the link being the mythologizing of the actors’ soul and the surreal nature of both films. This connection is tenuous and only distracts from an individual analysis of the film. Cold Souls is romantic, fantastical and concrete in its approach while Kaufman’s films are darker and delve into the conceptual a little more.
Barthes, has an intriguing concept in this film. What would happen if we could extract and rent souls? The idea is full of creative potential but the scenes connect together in a wistful meandering that makes the movie feel both too long and a little detached from the subject matter, which is much heavier. It is also the lack of attention to detail that really catches you off-guard. Why was Nina, the Russian mule played by Dina Korzun, so willing to help Giamatti get his soul when it could surely get her in serious trouble with her shady boss? How was it physically implausible for Nina to get her soul back on account of the conglomeration of soul remnants within her WHEN she had been transporting entire Russian souls to the US? Also, how was she the only mule servicing the private New York clinic? All these questions and more pulled me out of the plot.
Despite these annoyances the performances are solid and Giamatti is an expert in his subtle comic approach. There were some wonderfully funny scenes; my favorite being when Giamatti discovers his soul looks just like a chickpea. This is followed by his soul accidentally being tossed across Dr. Flintstein’s office leaving both of them desperately fumbling around to find it.