Cold souls (2009, USA/Russia)

Finally following Lauren Ambrose led me somewhere. I liked her and her flaming red hair and character in “Six Feet Under” so much that I tried to check out her in other movies. She appeared in some independent movies that sounded more interesting and better than they were. So I didn’t have my hopes high for “Cold souls,” where she only had a supporting role. I was wrong: this movie became an instant favorite of mine.

I simply liked everything in it: the multilayered story, the introspective acting, the melancholic cinematography, the quiet music, the juxtaposition of American and Russian reality and soul… As you will read the summary below (or elsewhere) let me just tell you that the superimposition of the message from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (alienation from the self in the face of relations with others) onto our post-modern times was a genius idea. In our technology and gadget focused era the next logical step the objectification and commodification of everything is indeed the extraction of the soul. Playing with this absurd idea resulted in some great existentialist lines about the nature of the soul. Does it have a gender, shape, color? Do these carry any significance? What happens after death? How can one live without a soul? Does soullessness mean lack of emotions or more? Do souls evolve? Can you put a price tag on a soul? If yes, based on what criteria? Questions like these pop up throughout the movie, but don’t expect clear-cut answers.

Paul Giamatti plays the main character and himself, aka a known America actor in search of his soul in Russia. He also plays Uncle Vanya on stage in the film and his varied delivery (depending on whose soul he has in him, if anybody’s) is also flawless. The Russian mule of souls, played by Dina Koruzan, was as distant as the role required it, and got animated only in the last third of the film. David Strathairn was the doctor who operated the soul storage facility and was eerily convincing. So was Emily Watson as Paul’s wife, who was left out of the loop. It’s a pity that Lauren Ambrose was essentially just a pretty face here.

Andrij Parekh‘s constantly gently moving cinematography and Dickon Hinchliffe‘s smooth yet characteristic background made Sophie Barthes‘s movie complete. Ms. Barthes wrote and directed the movie alone. She is a real auteur. I want to see more from her, but IMDB only lists two shorts: Happiness (2006) and Zimove vesilya (2004).

Do your soul a favor: rent/buy/watch this movie and answer the question it raises in you. I guarantee: it will not leave you cold.

The DVD @ Amazon.com.

Official site

IMDB’s summary: 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?

Trailer:

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