Cold Souls: Paul Giamatti Has a Little Problem

Let's get this out of the way first: Yes, it's just like a Charlie Kaufman premise, but it's not a Charlie Kaufman movie. Instead, in Sophie Barthes' not-so-comic comedy, Paul Giamatti plays a tortured New York actor named Paul, one famous enough to be noticed on the street, who's starring in Uncle Vanya on Broadway. We see him in multiple rehearsals for the title role, and these scenes are a treat: a real stage actor bringing wildly different emphases to the part, which both astonishes and dismays his co-stars and director. I say wildly different because Paul swaps souls at least twice during rehearsals. There's a medical device at an unlicensed clinic on Roosevelt Island that allows him first to rid himself of the old, tortured Paul; then, since empty, soulless Paul doesn't work, he borrows a Russian soul (this being Chekhov and all). And somewhere in the process, international soul smuggler Nina (Dina Korzun) somehow misplaces Paul's soul. But after transporting it inside her back to St. Petersburg, she falls in love with him a little. (Movie Paul is married to Emily Watson; not so in real life.) Are you with me so far? Barthes is a French writer-director, and this is her first feature. And it's no great criticism to say that her ideas, well, they get away from her. Giamatti, being Giamatti, is wonderful. Meanwhile the exquisite Korzun (Last Resort, Forty Shades of Blue) is left to walk the shore at Coney Island and stare mournfully out windows. She's been contaminated by carrying the souls of so many, so briefly, and has lost her own. So if it's madcap meta-comedy you want, this is not your movie. But as it delves into melancholy hotels, forlorn Slavic orphanages, and the likely impossibility of happiness, Cold Souls is relatively lighthearted.

 
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