By James Rocchi (reprint from Sundance 2009)
It's inevitable Cold Souls -- with its pseudo-scientific commercialized metaphysics and actor's angst -- will be compared to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich; it's the first post-Charlie Kaufman film, where the writer-director's weird, wooly aesthetic becomes a genre unto itself. Starring Paul Giamatti as, in a blatant piece of typecasting, actor Paul Giamatti, Cold Souls begins with Giamatti rehearsing the title role in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, and it's obviously taking its toll as he plunges into sad-sack Russian angst and anomie. Giamatti's agent tips him to an article in The New Yorker, profiling a new service called "Soul Storage," wherein melancholy Manhattanites are having their souls extracted by Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn) and held in escrow so they can live less complicated lives. Giamatti, wondering if having less soul would help him better play the part and get through the day, goes to Flintstein's office to get the details: "Your soul can be stored here ... or if you'd prefer to avoid the sales tax, it can be shipped to our storage facility in New Jersey. ..."
And again, you get the Kaufman vibe from writer-director Sophie Barthes; the dry humor, the everyday acceptance of the ludicrous, the ludicrous nature of the everyday. But while the comparisons to Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich are inevitable, they're also not quite right. Eternal Sunshine was about the messy business of loving another; Cold Souls, with the equally messy proposition of living with one's self. Being John Malkovitch riffed comedy out of celebrity and stardom; Cold Souls examines sub-lebrity and acting. Cold Souls is a beautifully shot film, and it also becomes more than a little bit moving, as Giamatti struggles with a question we've all asked ourselves: Is it possible to remove the burden of our soul without taking away the benefit of it? Is it the very weight we struggle under that makes us strong?