It’s not surprising that this deadpan existential comedy has been compared, favourably, to Being John Malkovich. Aside from boasting a similarly mind-bending premise (here revolving around the storage, sale and swapping of people’s souls), it stars Paul Giamatti playing a character called Paul Giamatti who’s modelled on the American actor’s often highly neurotic screen persona (see Sideways, etc).
As the film opens, Giamatti’s in rehearsals with a New York production of Uncle Vanya. Unfortunately, Chekhov’s masterpiece about wasted lives is depressing the already melancholic actor, and so, on the advice of a friend, Giamatti visits a mysterious upmarket Manhattan clinic run by the debonair Dr Flintstein (David Strathairn, excellent as ever) that specialises in extracting troubling souls much in the way one would have a cyst removed. Thereafter, Giamatti finds himself no longer troubled by existential angst, but, now soulless, he can’t act.
It’s a clever conceit and marvellously sardonic commentary on the soullessness of contemporary American society. French-born, Middle East-raised, NYC-resident filmmaker Sophie Barthes’ debut easily stands up to comparisons with Charlie Kaufman’s modern classic, but her film distinguishes itself by being more, for want of a better word, soulful. Barthes, who says her chief inspirations were Carl Jung, Woody Allen and Luis Buñuel, proves herself to be a real talent to watch.
Selected release from Fri 13 Nov.