Soul Serenade: Cold Souls brings out the Giamatti in Giamatti | Film | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Coverage for Central Oregon, by Central Oregonians.
100% Local. No Paywalls.

Every day, the Source publishes a mix of locally reported stories on our website, keeping you up to date on developments in news, food, music and the arts. We’re committed to covering this city where we live, this city that we love, and we hear regularly from readers who appreciate our ability to put breaking news in context.

The Source has been a free publication for its 22 years. It has been free as a print version and continued that way when we began to publish online, on social media and through our newsletters.

But, as most of our readers know, times are different for local journalism. Tech giants are hoovering up small businesses and small-business advertising—which has been the staple for locally owned media. Without these resources, journalism struggles to bring coverage of community news, arts and entertainment that social media cannot deliver.

Please consider becoming a supporter of locally owned journalism through our Source Insider program. Learn more about our program’s benefits by clicking through today.

Support Us Here

Screen » Film

Soul Serenade: Cold Souls brings out the Giamatti in Giamatti

Cold Souls brings out the Giamatti in Giamatti.



Cold Souls is a quirky dark comedy, a thought-provoking mystery, as well as a metaphor-ridden quiz. It's edgy enough to pass as weird but formulaic enough for the audience to follow. With interwoven doses of art-house film stamped throughout, it's guaranteed to keep your attention.

The notion behind Cold Souls' story is funnier than it's actually depicted on screen. Paul Giamatti plays an actor named (oddly enough) Paul Giamatti, although he's not the guy from Sideways or Duets; he's a stage actor rehearsing Chekov's Uncle Vanya and struggling to get into the character.
Intrigued by an article in The New Yorker about soul extraction, he soon finds a listing for "soul storage" in the Yellow Pages. The company offers to give its customers a life free from fear, doubt and worry through a process of "deep freezing" their souls. Eager to erase his angst, Giamatti enlists their services. Skeptical, he meets with Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn) who convinces him it's all OK. His soul, resembling a chick pea (a platform for jokes to follow), gets yanked out via an MRI-looking contraption. Soon, Paul is soulless and anguish free, but feeling hollow and somewhat lethargic. Unable to cope with a life without love or erections, he decides he wants his soul back.

Unfortunately for Giamatti, the parallel storyline of the flick tells of a Russian soul trafficking group that uses mules to transport souls back and forth from the US. His stolen soul is now in the body of a Russian soap opera star. From this premise, much of the film's focus is on the state of being without a soul, trying to come to grips with reality and what it would be like to be someone else. Giamatti briefly houses the soul of a Russian poet, saying, "This is just too heavy."

Cold Souls is deliberately slow paced and tirelessly focused on Giamatti's thinking and squirming process. Giamatti, a supremely talented actor, exhibits chops heretofore unseen in his repertoire. He's convincing as himself but doesn't really play himself. The real Giamatti probably doesn't stew so much over the meaning of life; that's not his apartment in the film and he's not married to Emily Watson. Watson (as Claire) brilliantly brings a pivotal awareness when she realizes something is wrong with her now soulless husband. Strathairn is great as the smarmy soul surgeon. The gleeful look in his eye when he states, "We can de-soul or disembowel the soul" is priceless. Dina Korzun as Nina the drug trafficking mule gives the film a boost as we watch her deteriorate from transporting souls in her body.

Writer/director Sophie Barthe shows indie-film style with colorful visuals as she cuts back and forth from scenic Russian landscapes and dark industrial sites to sanitized soul storage units. Her narrative touches on everything from drug trafficking to cloning to spirituality. Rather than preaching about the evils of corporate greed, Barthe focuses on the personal. She traffics in emotions and existentialism, yet manages to weave in post-9/11 homeland security as a commentary on freedom as individuality.

This isn't the mind-bending stuff of Charlie Kaufman, but this surreal flick nonetheless affords a very gratifying experience. The moral that life isn't about escaping pain, rather that suffering is an essential part of the human experience, rings true.

Cold Souls ★★★✩✩

Starring Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Dina Korzun. Written and directed by Sophie Barthe. Rated PG-13

Add a comment

More by The Source Staff

Latest in Film