Cold Souls Review

Cold Souls
Written and Directed by: Sophie Barthes
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathairn, Katheryn Winnick, Lauren Ambrose

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What is a soul, and how does this soul define us as human beings? That is the central question in the low-budget film Cold Souls, written and directed by Sophie Barthes. The film stars Paul Giamatti (part of the Oscar Snub Club with Sam Rockwell) as, erm, Paul Giamatti who is in the midst of rehearsals for the Chekov play Vanya. Feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, and unable to work, he is looking for any solution to help this problem.

He finds it in an article in The New Yorker, which tells of a place that removes the soul from a person. Intrigued, Paul visits the company, which is run by Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn), who tells him that a person’s soul is not just an abstract idea as originally thought; it is an appendage to the body, much like a spleen or a kidney and can be removed with ease. Although uncomfortable with the idea of this procedure, Paul’s desperation causes him to have his soul removed, and he comes face to face with the notion that his soul is nothing more than the size of a chickpea. He has it stored at the facility until the run of Vanya has ended, but when he returns to retrieve it, it is gone.

Souls, it turns out, are a lucrative if small business, where they hit the black market and people can gain the soul of someone else instead of their own. Paul’s soul is “borrowed” by a “mule”, a Russian woman named Nina (Dina Korzun), who brings it to Russia through implanting it inside of herself for her boss’s wife, who is an aspiring soap actress looking for a “Hollywood” soul to up her game and make her a better performer. This leads Paul in an attempt to regain his soul and the film proceeds to get philosophical about the idea of a soul and its necessity to the essence of a human being.

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Cold Souls has been compared to Being John Malkovich by some critics and viewers (including a friend of mine) and I do get some of the similarities; both films involve a main character playing himself and the idea of switching personas to be someone else, although Being John Malkovich does this to a more literal and extreme extent. The thing is, while I saw Kaufman elements in the movie, Cold Souls is a lot slower and goes into different ideas, being able to distinguish itself from what people have compared it to.

Giamatti puts in another great performance, playing a depressed version of himself. He seems to be the go to guy for sad sacks in Hollywood, and there is no one better at this role than him. He carries the film  just by being so ridiculously talented and gives the somewhat ludicrous plot some gravitas. Dina Korzun also does great with her side of the film. Although Paul deals with the loss of the soul, Korzun’s Nina is in the business of souls and acts as a mule, letting herself be injected with them to bring them overseas. Each soul leaves some residue though, and with so many trips, she is beginning to lose hope that she can even get her own back.

Her story is just as captivating as Paul’s, although as a Russian, she speaks in that language for a good amount of her scenes. It may have been the online screener I reviewed (LEGALLY viewed by the way), but her scenes with her boss and other Russians did not have subtitles, so you are left to just soak in what is going on and to use your own mind to decipher what is happening. I personally got into that as the movie progressed, but I can see the average moviegoer being annoyed at the lack of subtitles during these scenes and letting their minds wander.

Cold Souls is not a traditional Hollywood movie; it’s slow, plodding, and full of ideas rather than action. Not everyone will like this film, but for those who embrace the premise (which isn’t hard to do, as it’s presented realistically and plausibly) will find great enjoyment out of this. If you like the slower foreign films, you will definitely dig Cold Souls. As a big Giamatti fan, his performance alone was worth the watch and I think that if people give this a chance, they can treat themselves to a movie that is off-beat and makes you think; a nice reprieve from the stuff Hollywood usually feeds the masses. — Jonathan

SCORE: 3.5 stars



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  • http://www.filmjunk.com/category/podcasts/cantankerous/ Reed Farrington

    Sounds like a movie that would interest me, although I don’t understand how removing your soul would help you act in a play. I’m sort of wondering how a person would behave without a soul and how Giamatti would play that.

  • kolekale

    reminds me of Stroszek, in that ian curtis sort of way.

  • KeithTalent

    I saw this in the theatre and really liked it. I loved how they played off Giammati strggling with performing Vanya on stage and the actual existential preoccupations of Giammti’s character. I did not know much about Vanya beforehand, but reading it after the fact gave me an even greater appreciation for the film and how the themes sort of lined up.

    Pretty cool and the performaces were very good. I forgot this was out now, I should go pick it up.

  • http://christophergrantharvey.com/ Chris Harvey

    Yeah this looks very interesting, wondering if it will ever be released here…

  • Dane Forst

    yeah, this looks interesting. It had an awesome movie poster and then dropped the ball with a terrible DVD cover. I’ll still see it though

  • Mason

    I saw this last week and was kind of let down. Paul Giamatti’s acting was the best thing about it. The writers dropped the ball by not taking the concept anywhere really moving or significant. I’m not usually one to claim that something being derivative is a bad thing, but it was hard to get over its basic similarity to Eternal Sunshine. Still, while not great it is very good and worth a rental. 7 out of 10.

  • http://nope chickpea

    the copy i viewed was from a torrent and the subtitles had not been downloaded properly so i had the same problem. upon locating and downloading the file for the english subtitles, the language barrier and gaps in the plot were fixed. i’d suggest a rewatch with subtitles.

  • http://www.silverparticules.blogspot.com valerie

    None of the scene in russian have subtitles it’s done in purpose and I love this effect, because this way we get be like in reallife in the weirdness of things! I really love this film, I made an analysis on it, if you’re interested you can check it on my link, there’s a part in French there, but don’t be scared it’s translated ;) . see ya!

  • Erik

    Great movie. I was frustrated at the lack of Russian subtitles. Bit I just watched it in Encire and it had subtitles! The Russian bits are quite funny. For example. When the ‘actress’ gives the list to husband, he asks why there aren’t any actresses on the list(on first viewing I assumed he asked her why she went for the cream if the crop and acquiring them would be hard. Hence them handing it off to the mule.). And when the ‘actress’ sees its a ‘chickpea’, the mule says shape doesn’t matter, it is a beautiful soul. Also, when they taking inventory(when one is a jellybean) she says one is a scientist ‘he didn’t believe he had one’. The guy the asks how many poets teu have. The other girl answers ’14′. He says not enough and says to change the scientist and jellybean to poets. Since Paul got a ‘poet’ soul and it is obvious the girl wasn’t a poet(she was a factory worker). This seems to explain the corruption practiced on Russian side further. All in all I enjoyed it without subtitles, it allowed me to make my own interpretation. But with subtitles, the story is furthers and lens humor to the Russians. A lot of jokes are missed and plot points lost with lack of subtitles.

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