Friday, 25 November 2011

It's All About Soul Part I [Review: Cold Souls]

The soul is invisible, undetectable, unfathomable. Science has very little to say about the soul. Cinema, on the other hand...

Paul Giamatti, playing a mid-life crisis caricature of himself in Sophie Barthes' film Cold Souls, feels his soul is weighing him down. He's in the theatre rehearsing for Uncle Vanya but unable to breathe life into the character - so his solution is to visit the Soul Storage Company, who for a small fee will decant your soul into a glass jar and keep it in a locker. Paul just wants his soul out of the way until after the performance, but it turns out soullessness is a very individual experience and has its advantages and disadvantages.

Sophie Barthes is a writer and director with a very clear vision. As with Inception and the shared dream technology, the script remains focussed on a single sci-fi idea - the soul removal device. The concept is extrapolated - what would life be like without a soul? and, if you can take out your soul and put it back again, what else could you do? These scenarios are, in turn, used to bring human nature under the microscope.

Giamatti is human, and it's the small things that freak him out - he's not at all bothered by the ethical or theological implications of soul storage, the fact that soul storage is "not an exact science" or the limitations - it turns out that as much as 5% residual soul can be left behind. The idea that his soul could be stored in New Jersey on the other hand really disturbs him, as does the shape and size of his soul when he gets to see it, which is one of the best and funniest scenes in the film.

Barthes also wears her love for the films of Woody Allen on her sleeve - the central character and his neuroses, the concept and setting, the soft use of hand-held camera, even the font when the credits roll, are all definitely Woody-ish. I thought the film compared very well to the best of Allen's classic films and it does have a voice of its own - I found the humour darker and more subtle.

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