Cold Souls (12A)

Sophie Barthes (101 mins), starring Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathairn
Click to follow

Sophie Barthes's metaphysical comedy is also a lesson in straight-faced perversity.

Paul Giamatti plays a grumpy, dumpy actor – named Paul Giamatti – who's struggling with the burden of playing Chekhov on stage. He submits to a medical procedure that divests him of his soul (it looks like a chickpea) and replaces it with that of a Russian poet. But when he decides to claim his own one back he becomes mired in a bizarre imbroglio involving a Russian "mule" (Dina Korzun) and a black-market scam. Giamatti is terrific as the troubled actor, though there's an awkward gap in the set-up: with or without his soul, he remains exactly the same tetchy, nerve-racked loser. There is no hint of what a soul might "mean", so what's at stake? The film itself seems to inhabit the soul of another screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, though it's more a respectful nod than a blatant steal. Barthes shows enough wit and daring of her own to mark her as one to watch.