Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathairn, Katheryn Winnick, Lauren Ambrose, Boris Kievsky, Oksana Lada, Natalia Zvereva, Rebecca Brooksher, Yevgeniy Dekhtyar, Floanne Ankah, Fabrizia Dal Farra, Polina Gorokhovskaya, Michael Stuhlbarg
Written by: Sophie Barthes
Directed by: Sophie Barthes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for nudity and brief strong language
Running Time: 101
Date: 01/17/2009

Cold Souls (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Crying Uncle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It was only a matter of time before someone came out with a Charlie Kaufman-esque film, without Charlie Kaufman's involvement. But though writer/director Sophie Barthes envisions a world where one can easily picture a portal into John Malkovich's head or a scientific process that erases heartbreak, she also manages to create a effective and even stirring film in her own right. Paul Giamatti stars as a neurotic New York actor named Paul Giamatti; it's a fine performance, despite the obvious gimmick. Working on a stage production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, Paul becomes distraught and depressed. He sees an article about "soul storage" and looks into it, eventually deciding to temporarily relieve himself of his heavy soul. But when he changes his mind, he discovers that his soul has been sold to the Russian black market. A beautiful soap star (Katheryn Winnick) has demanded the soul of an American actor -- she would prefer Al Pacino's -- to improve her career. So Paul and a soul mule (Dina Korzun) travel there to try and get it back. (It's a land that would have been only vaguely familiar to Chekhov.) David Strathairn co-stars as the director of the soul clinic, with gorgeous redhead Lauren Ambrose as an assistant. Emily Watson has some nice small moments as Paul's worrying wife. Barthes gives the film a nice chilly, deadpan tone so that it easily wanders from black comedy to moments of genuine reflection. We see souls with funny shapes in glass jars, but we're also given time to contemplate just what a soul might be. Still, it's a large idea, and Barthes' film sometimes seems too small to handle it; it could have gone further, and deeper.

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