Cold Souls (4 stars)

Cold Souls

(12A) 101min

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.

Cold Souls trailer

Cold Souls

  • 4 stars
  • 2009
  • US / France
  • 1h 41min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Sophie Barthes
  • Written by: Sophie Barthes
  • Cast: Paul Giamatti, Emily Watson, David Strathairn

A mind-bending premise revolving around the trading of souls reveals a marvellously sardonic commentary on the vapid nature of contemporary American society in Barthes' highly promising debut feature. The central conceit has led some to compare the film with 'Being John Malkovich' and the comparison is a favourable one…