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COLD SOULS

Director: SOPHIE BARTHES

U.S.A. • 2009 • COLOUR • DIGITAL • 101 MIN


PAUL GIAMATTI DOESN’T QUITE REALISE WHAT HE’S IN FOR WHEN HE TRIES THE LATEST MEDICAL FAD — SOUL EXTRACTION! — TO HELP HIM THROUGH A TROUBLED PRODUCTION OF UNCLE VANYA IN THIS WRY, DISTINCTLY SURREAL NEW YORK COMEDY.

All he wants is to be less miserable, and after a simple procedure supervised by David Strathairn’s smooth-talking Dr. Flintstein, Giamatti feels the weight has been lifted from his shoulders, even though the removed soul strongly resembles a chick pea. Whether this does indeed improve his Chekhov we’re not about to say, though spouse Emily Watson certainly finds her husband a changed man. Meanwhile, back at Soul Storage, other services on offer include a handy replacement service, in which enigmatic Russian smuggler Dina Korzun is heavily involved. All of which leaves Giamatti wondering when you take on a new soul, can you be really sure where it comes from?

As the synopsis suggests, this is wildly inventive, witty and astutely perceptive stuff that one might be tempted to dub ‘Charlie Kaufmanesque’ were it not for the fact that writer-director Sophie Barthes is rather mellower in her melancholy musings than the current wizard of odd. She’s wonderfully served to by some weirdly credible production design, Andrij Parekh’s truly poetic lighting, and, above all, by maestro Giamatti. We know he does hangdog forbearance to perfection, yet here he brings all the story’s mad yet insightful ideas to vividly, utterly human life. You’ll understand what life is like without a soul, or indeed the perils of making do with a rental. We laugh, but it’s a cautionary tale all right. — Trevor Johnston.

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