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Sundance 2009: “Cold Souls.”

Sundance 2009: “Cold Souls.” (photo)

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The shadow of Charlie Kaufman looms unignorably large over Sophie Barthes’ first feature “Cold Souls,” which stars Paul Giamatti as a well-known and very serious actor named Paul Giamatti, who’s finding that his role in a upcoming stage production of “Uncle Vanya” is weighing on him. An article in the New Yorker steers him to a service being pitched to wealthy New Yorkers looking to lighten their metaphysical load by having their souls removed and stored, and soon Giamatti is in the care of Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn), who professes, not reassuringly, that his company has no idea how their process works. Extracted, Giamatti’s soul takes the form of a chickpea. But while he no longer feels troubled — in fact, he no longer feels much at all — his soullessness isn’t doing much for his acting. He falls down the rabbit hole of international soul trafficking, renting what he’s told is a Russian poet’s soul imported by a professional mule (Dina Korzun) who, incidentally, has secretly borrowed Giamatti’s soul at her mobbish boss’ orders, as his soap star wife feels it’ll help her with her craft.

Brighton Beach, Russia, Manhattan, Roosevelt Island — they’re all chilly-looking realms in “Cold Souls,” one in which the unwelcome forces of economics, whimsically conceived as they may be, have stretched icy fingers into places they don’t belong. But while the film has plenty of the witty throwaway touches typical of, or at least a fair approximation of, Kaufman (to avoid sales tax, a customer can choose to have his or her soul shipped to New Jersey for cheaper storage), it lacks the solidity of his cockeyed universes, in which everything’s askew but remarkably consistent and terribly human. Halfway through Barthes’ film, the logic falters — why can souls regenerate from almost nothing? What happens to a soul when its source dies? What’s so bad about building up soul residue? — and the set-up starts to seem too much like a metaphor. A metaphor for the acting process, even, in which someone tries on something like another’s soul in order to embody a character on stage or screen, and in which a bit of that character could unwittingly linger even after the role is over. That’s not enough, for me, to justify the film’s sense of pervasive melancholy, which in its reverence for the high arts as the greatest indicators of soulfulness, seems a little facile.

“Cold Souls” currently has no U.S. distribution. See all of’s Sundance coverage here.

[Photo: “Cold Souls,” Journeyman Pictures, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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