Somerville, Mass - Sometimes, it's so hot in the pink house that there is nothing you can do but go to the movies. Such was the case last weekend, when we saw Cold Souls, the funny and probing comedy starring Paul Giamatti and Dina Korzun.
Apparently, starring in a Chekhov play can really get a guy down. When Paul Giamatti (who plays himself) is unable to separate the angst of Uncle Vanya from his everyday life, he takes desperate measures. An article in the New Yorker leads him to solicit a service called "Soul Storage" which promises to lighten his load for the duration of the show. His soul is extracted - it looks remarkably like a chickpea, which is a source of endless amusement throughout the film - and stored safe and sound in a little locker.
Unfortunately, it's not exactly a clean break. Without a soul, Giamatti becomes alienated from everything he used to care about. He can't act (the scene with the soul-less Giamatti doing Uncle Vanya is priceless); he can't make love to his wife; he can't do anything except stare at his feet.
Alas, when he returns to the soul storage facility to retrieve his little garbanzo bean, he discovers it has been stolen - absconded by a group of ruthless Russian soul trafickers. Dina Korzun plays an icy Russian blondinka - the mule who moves the priceless goods across borders. But she seems to have a soft spot for Giamatti (we might say that she was "able to get a sense of his soul" when she transported it to Russia). Ultimately, she agrees to take Paul to snowy St Petersburg in pursuit of his soul.
The scenes shot in Russia are magnificent - so beautiful and bleak. Giamatti spends a lot of time walking along the ice-clogged Neva River wearing a furry hat. Especially when it's 90 degrees wherever you are, the film effectively evokes a sense that he is a stranger in a strange land. A few views of the Petersburg skyline hint at the grandeur and grace of this city; but without his soul, Giamatti is really shut out from appreciating it, and so are we.
I loved the scenes shot in the hotel, which bears a striking resemblance to one Hotel Dnepr where I spent many nights in the year 1990, where Giamatti also spends many nights waiting, waiting, waiting. (Note: there are not actually too many hotels left in St Petersburg that look like that.)
Every once in a while, somebody makes a clever film that both makes you laugh and makes you think. Director Sophie Barthes has done it here. So next time you need a cool-down, get yourself to the cinema to watch Cold Souls.