Civilization and its discontents. Paul, an actor preparing for "Uncle Vanya" on Broadway, is mired in ennui. His agent tells him about an office where he can put his soul in storage. He does so then discovers that being soulless helps neither his acting nor his marriage; he returns to the office and rents, for two weeks, the soul of a Russian poet. His acting improves, but his wife finds him different, he sees bits of the borrowed soul's life, and he's now deep in sorrow. He wants his own soul back, but there are complications: it's in St. Petersburg. With the help of Nina, a Russian who transports souls to the U.S., he determines to get it back. Who has he become? Written by
Paul plays himself and was also in "Congress" where Robin Wright plays herself. Obviously both movies had something to do with acting. See more »
Dmitri tells the actress not to worry that Paul's soul looks like and is the size of a chickpea, telling her that Al Pacino won three Oscars. Al Pacino has actually only won one Oscar (Best Actor in 1992, Scent of a Woman). See more »
Now, your soul will be be stored here, or, if you'd rather avoid sales tax, it can be shipped to our New Jersey warehouse.
Giamatti - Paul:
Un, no. God, no. I don't want my soul shipped to New Jersey. No.
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Cold Souls: Existential Science-Fiction by PAUL CONSTANT
If you're only reading the synopsis, it's easy to see why so many lazy critics have compared Cold Souls to Being John Malkovich: Paul Giamatti stars as an actor named Paul Giamatti, whose soul is tormented by the kind of showy existential angst that commonly strikes actors, so he visits a laboratory that he reads about in the New Yorker that specializes in the removal and storage of souls. There's enough postmodern science-fiction weirdness in that premise to superficially resemble Malkovich, but Souls is more rooted in the surrealism and social commentary of Gogol. (When the film came to SIFF in June, director Sophie Barthes remarked that the title was intended to echo Dead Souls.)
Barthes is a startlingly assured first-time director: The production values are impeccable (the soul-removal facility is all gorgeous minimalism, smooth white and glass), and she coaxes better-than-average performances out of even dependably intelligent actors like Giamatti and David Strathairn. As a soulless Giamatti hilariously tries in vain to act in a Broadway production of Uncle Vanya, he comes to understand what he has given up and then decides to pursue his missing soul to Russia. You get the sense that these locations and these concepts have never been put to film before in quite such a playfully considerate way.
It's a real pleasure to see thoughtful, satirical low-budget science fiction in an American film, especially one with such a European sensibility. This is a very literary film and a very Russian film. And, yes, if you're worried, the fact that it is literary and Russian means that it is a slow movie. But it's the very best kind of slow movie, lingering unselfconsciously on the idea of what it means to have a soul. You don't often get to see movies tackle these kinds of Big Questions with such skill and aplomb; it's undeniably refreshing.
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