Cold Souls

In writer-director Sophie Barthes’ sardonic, just-slightly-surreal comedy of Gogol-esque proportions, Paul Giamatti struggles with the burden of his weighty soul. Then he pays an experimental physician (David Strathairn) to remove it. Then he discovers it has disappeared into the black market, and travels with a soul-trafficking mule (Dina Korzun) to St. Petersburg to retrieve it. Yes, it is basically a Charlie Kaufman movie for grown-ups, and accordingly rather pleased with itself. But restraint is of the essence here: Barthes and her crew build atmosphere with subtle sound design, blurry urban nightscapes, and a commendable frugality of dialogue. It plays as a cerebral, metaphysical goof, with Giamatti — for whom soullessness might be the ultimate reach — never descending into tedious self-parody. “I don’t need to be happy,” he says. “I just don’t want to suffer.” It is a rare film that so winningly stresses both the importance and consequence of realistic expectations.

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