FILM REVIEW: Cold Souls

12A • 101 mins • 13 November

Director: Sophie Barthes

Cast: Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathaim, Katheryn Winnick

Rating:

If you could buy Cold Souls in flatpack form from IKEA, when you laid out all the parts on the living room floor they’d look a lot like the components for a Charlie Kaufman movie.

Like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, it hinges on a high-tech company that’s developed some extraordinary mind-altering technology. Feel over-burdened? Why not lighten your load by having your soul extracted and put into storage? As in Being John Malkovich, there’s a central role for a well-known actor essaying a fictionalised version of themselves – indie darling Paul Giamatti, portraying himself as a shabby, stay-at home worrier. Making use of The Soul Storage Company’s services, he’s shocked to discover that his soul resembles a chickpea, and flabberghasted when it’s stolen, and ends up in the body of a soap opera actress. In Russia. She’s not best pleased either – she wanted Al Pacino…

It’s an intriguing notion, and along the way there are some wry smiles to be had from Giamatti’s discomfort – we could watch him pulling expressions of hangdog bemusement all day. There are some sly gags: the customer database includes only one actor, but scores of accountants… And the sight of a post-extraction Giamatti mangling Chekhov (imagine Uncle Vanya as performed by William Shatner) is priceless.

Sadly, despite some winning moments of slapstick and absurdity, on the whole the film is too dry to really fly as a farce. The Kaufman movies were more joyful, more inventive, and more magical. The subdued palette doesn’t help – it’s a symphony in beige. And as a think-piece it’s too shallow – despite opening with a quote from Descartes, none of the obvious big questions are interrogated with any rigour.

The film’s biggest problem is its chilly detachment. You don’t grow to care for any of the characters. Shots of people looking pensively into the middle distance outnumber moments of human warmth. In a few scenes it looks like Giamatti might develop a relationship with a female “mule” who transports souls to and from Russia but disappointingly, that never comes to anything. The title says it all, really – this is a film that could have done with being a lot less cold, and a lot more soulful.

Ian Berriman