Cold Souls

Cold Souls

2009, PG-13, 101 min. Directed by Sophie Barthes. Starring Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Katheryn Winnick, Lauren Ambrose.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 18, 2009

An actor named Paul Giamatti (played by the actor Paul Giamatti) smells different, and his skin feels somehow scaly to his wife, Claire (Watson). She wants to know what’s wrong with him, why the man in bed next to her looks and sounds like her husband, but doesn’t seem to have his spirit, his essential Paul-ness. Hang-dog, he replies, “I rented the soul of a Russian poet.” Not a bad choice, actually, considering it was the spiritually taxing part of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya that pushed Paul to the decision to first extract his soul, then swap it for another model in cold storage. There's some sneaky humor to be had there, in Strathairn’s faintly dim Dr. Flintstein – who not only invented the Kool-Aid, but drank it himself, with relish – and in the glib promise of pharmacology as lifestyle fix-it (comparisons to Charlie Kaufman’s magical memory-erasing machine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are inevitable, and not entirely off-base). But there’s a whole other subplot – a whole other film, really – running concurrently, involving a Russian soul-trafficking racket and a femme fatale mule named Nina (Korzun). The two threads trade space somewhat awkwardly, Buñuelist oddballism bumping up against the realist grime and gaudiness of the post-Soviet black-market trade, until the film’s sparkier second half finally marries the two. Even with the light lifts from other sources (Barthes has also cited Federico Fellini and Eugène Ionesco as inspirations), the multinational writer/director’s debut feature is an original, and Giamatti is masterful, swaddled in a heavy beard and an existential slump. His character eventually goes all the way to St. Petersburg to track down his soul, which has been filched by a vapid Russian soap star, and one senses the actor is game to go even farther. Barthes’ film, however, never quite fulfills the nerviness of its own premise. She’s created a marvelous construct, but only brushed the surface of its ramifications: It’s a window display, when what we really want is to see what goes on behind closed doors.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Paul Giamatti Films
The Holdovers
Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti reunite for a Christmas lament

Matthew Monagle, Nov. 3, 2023

A Mouthful of Air
Postpartum depression colors a kids books writer’s life

Oct. 29, 2021

More by Kimberley Jones
Babes
Female friendship, pregnant bodies go under the microscope in hilarious Babes

May 17, 2024

Sketchfest, Shakespeare, and More Arts Events to Fill Your Week
Sketchfest, Shakespeare, and More Arts Events to Fill Your Week
Things are gonna get cheeky, queer, and local

May 17, 2024

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Cold Souls, Sophie Barthes, Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Katheryn Winnick, Lauren Ambrose

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle