Cold Souls - (2009) Directed by Sophie Barthes;
Starring Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn,
Dina Korzun, and Emily Watson
It starts with Chekhov's Uncle Vanya as recited by actor Paul Giamatti who in the film, as himself, is playing the title role. Its a very powerful opening for lo-fi sci-fi comedy/drama, Cold Souls. I am unfamiliar with Uncle Vanya so it took me a moment to realize Paul's words were that of the play and not his own. Though I feel this was intentional, as even Paul admits that he cannot separate himself from the character he's playing (Voynitsky "Vanya"), thus feeling as the character does in the play, as if his soul is weighing him down. The story was well-written and directed by Sophie Barthes who makes her full feature film debut. Both New York and Russia are beautifully represented and the consistent unfocusing of the camera lens throughout the film gave one the impression of lost perspective, of a reality blur that at one lovely shot of an almost translucent Dina Korzon walking through a New York Night, she became as Aldous Huxley's Denis once wrote of the soul, "pale, tenuous membrane." The film is cold and lonely with a sense of solidarity between the characters, who are each convincing under such fantastic premises as soul extraction and soul trafficking, (which I promise you, if the first were possible, the latter would be sadly but most definitely inevitable).
I add this literal "soul searcher" film to such films as Stranger Than Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and others I might have missed or are yet to come, where realistic drama is introduced to an incredible plot drive whose technical function isn't really explained and such an explanation remains unessential to the core of the story which is mainly focused on how the characters deal out their problems through this plot device (i.e., a soul extracting machine, a memory erasing clinic, a narrator who narrates your life, a portal into John Malkovich's mind).
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's Lacuna Inc. and Cold Souls' Soul Storage were vehicles for temporarily stripping the main characters' problem through an immediate, unrealistic solution that only brought forth more problems for the protagonists. Of the films I mentioned, Eternal Sunshine is the one most related to Cold Souls.
These stories remind me of the science fiction of author, Philip K. Dick, who spent more time on the people in his stories than the machinery of the future they usually occupy. The main characters in his novels were typically the little guy, the person at the bottom who didn't have anything to gain from the world he lived in. Its rather a shame or crime that most of the films adapted from Dick's work fails to capture the same human feeling when compared to any of the films mentioned above. Paul GIamatti has been mentioned to portray Philip K. Dick in a possible bio-pic but I hope someone has enough sense to get someone with at least half the imagination of Charlie Kaufman, Sophie Barthes, or Dick himself to handle the story.
(note to self: read Uncle Vanya)