In response to shiny, bigger, better American consumerism comes “Cold Souls,” a metaphysical tragicomedy in which souls can be extracted and traded as commodities. Balancing on a tightrope between deadpan humor and pathos, and between reality and fantasy, the film presents Paul Giamatti as himself, agonizing over his interpretation of Uncle Vanya. Paralyzed with anxiety, he stumbles upon a solution via a New Yorker article about a high-tech company promising to alleviate suffering by deep-freezing souls. Giamatti enlists their services, intending to reinstate his soul once he survives the performance. But complications ensue when a mysterious, soul-trafficking “mule,” transporting product to and from Russia, “borrows” Giamatti’s stored soul for an ambitious, but unfortunately talentless, soap-opera actress. Rendered soulless, he is left with no choice but to follow the trail back to bleak St. Petersburg. He comes to value that happiness isn’t merely the absence of pain, but the integration of the full range of emotion into life.Sophie Barthes’s debut feature is strikingly original, not only for its haunting concept but for its poetic execution. Inspired production design and lyrical cinematography create a melancholic, heightened world. Perfectly cast, Giamatti and a gifted ensemble maneuver seamlessly through shifting ontological landscapes without ever betraying the surrealism. With this dazzling accomplishment, Barthes establishes herself as an auteur to reckon with.