DIR: Sophie Barthes • WRI: Sophie Barthes • PRO: Daniel Carey, Elizabeth Giamatti, Paul S. Mezey, Andrij Parekh, Jeremy Kipp Walker • DOP: Andrij Parekh • ED: Andrew Mondshein • DES: Beth Mickle • CAST: Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathairn
There is a current trend in Hollywood for ‘Kaufman-esque’ type films, this being screenplays based on strange fictionalized ‘facts’ that deal with metaphysical matters in a quirky manner – Kaufman having provided us with Adaption, Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, all of which blur the lines between physical reality and mental surreality.
Stranger Than Fiction recently found itself being tagged as such, and now along comes the much-lauded Cold Souls – another ‘Kaufman-esque’ film.
Cold Souls posits a world in which it is possible for a person to have their soul extracted and replaced with another one. The company providing this service stores anonymous souls for those wishing to relieve themselves of the burden of their own. One such soul punter is Paul Giamatti, who, in true Kaufmann style, plays himself, an actor currently starring in a theatrical production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Giamatti, struggling with the role and going through a difficult period in his life, decides to give the soul swap a try, which of course goes horribly wrong.
Giamatti’s soul gets mixed up in a soul trafficking enterprise and, as a result, finds its way to Russia, where it has been transplanted into the body of a Russian soap actress. Giamatti sets off in pursuit.
Now, obviously this film has been influenced by Kaufman’s work; but to what extent does influence become crafty inventive plagiarism? Cold Souls makes a magpie of director Barthes as she steals Kaufman’s silver spoon. Unfortunately, with Cold Souls, she makes a wooden spoon of it. Whereas Kaufman’s ontological output plays clever games, wielding the dice of existential angst and absurdist humour, Cold Souls lacks a sense of itself and fails to deal with its initial intriguing premise.
The writer/director Sophie Barthes has re-fashioned a quirky film that sounds more interesting than it actually is. It comes across like the result of a dinner-party conversation fuelled by wine and ‘what if…’ conversations, after philosophy 101 evening classes. The film could have been much better had the resulting plot been abandoned and the original idea fleshed out and exploited more. Metaphysics is ripe for humour! Cue Woody Allen joke…
On the plus side – at least Barthes has made a film that gets a mainstream cinema release which extends beyond the usual dumbed-down, teenage-marketed manure that fills our screens. And of course, it’s always fun to watch Paul Giamatti; and he has a couple of scenes that allow his manic glazed look to get some laughs. But the novelty of the premise that lies behind the film rapidly runs out of steam before the movie even reaches halfway. Not as clever or as funny as it thinks it is, Cold Souls is more damp squib. Still though, better than two-thirds of the repugnant dross showing at the omniplex.
(See biog here)