Directed by Sophie Barthes
An actor, playing himself (Being John Malkovich), wishes to extract a metaphysical piece of his person (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in order to better create art (Synecdoche, New York). The process goes awry (Eternal Sunshine), forcing others in and out of said actor’s soul (Being JM) and making him realize he should be happy with who he is (Adaptation). Alright, I’ll just say it: despite weak protests to the contrary, Cold Souls is nothing more than a Charlie Kaufman knock-off, the most insultingly derivative film of the year. Even Wes Anderson-inspired The Brothers Bloom contained original ideas about storytelling and fakery; French director Sophie Barthes’s debut feature is content to remain a complete fraud.
It’s also a complete drag. Confused about what the soul might even be (is it what makes us feel, or what comprises our memories?), Cold Souls settles on a Russian black market soul donor mix-up narrative that couldn’t be less involving or more drab. Whereas Kaufman — using the literary influences he, unlike Barthes, brilliantly amalgamates — finds pitch-black humor in human vanity and folly, Barthes tiresomely describes states of nebulous melancholia. Malkovich entered his own mind to discover a hilariously nightmarish world of Malkovichs; when Paul Giamatti, doing his reliably annoying schlimazel bit, finally stares into the abyss of his own soul at the fizzling climax of Barthes’s film, all we get are blurry images of pregnant women, bald albinos, and a young boy — it might as well be the haphazard symbology of a mid-90s grunge video.
Opens August 7