Woody Allen once dreamed that his soul was the shape and size of a chickpea. Cold Souls isn't as colorful a dream, but the basis is similar.
The movie stars Paul Giamatti as himself, struggling with the role of the very passive Uncle Vanya in the titular Checkhov play. Giamatti then becomes overwhelmed by the weight set on his shoulders and mopes around for a few weeks.
After reading a New Yorker article about a company specializing in the extration of souls, he convinces himself that this is the best and only answer to his problems and extracts his own. The chickpea-esque entity that comes out is a serious blow to his soulless pride.
Giamati's suffering during the film's exposition is slightly annoying, but becomes believable when at the unfathomable company's offices. His reluctance to give his soul up is amusing, as well as applicable to reality. But when the plot thickens and Giamatti finds himself tangled up with some sketchy Russian soul-traffickers, Cold Souls becomes truly engaging.
The shooting is artsy at points, with blurred panning and dark, mysterious lighting contrasting with neon signs. lashbacks are easily discernible from the film's present events, although quite cryptic. Bright, clean lighting is used well to create the sterile and futuristic world of the soul-extraction company's office. The extraction machine itself looks like something from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and when it is shown in its Russian habitat, it's decidedly out of place.
The supporting cast make the film really enjoyable, especially the female actors. The character of Nina (Dina Korzun) is interesting and easily likable, and reminds audiences of Michelle Reis in Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels, as they are both caring individuals in impersonal professions.
All in all, Cold Souls is an enjoyable film. Its humour, although sometimes dull, runs throughout. The shooting is cryptic but yields to poignant scenes. Sophie Barthes toys with a difficult, high-concept basis for a film, doing a fine job bringing her screenplay to life through her direction, even though the lesser characters mentioned in the film -- such as the Russian poet -- should have been elaborated further.