by Jefferson Robbins We have much to praise and condemn Charlie Kaufman for, and popularizing science-fiction and meta-fictional elements to eyeball modern emotional displacement could count in both columns. In her first feature, writer-director Sophie Barthes deploys an amazing cast in an effort that will, for better or worse, be invariably compared to Kaufman's Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Paul Giamatti (Paul Giamatti) is in theatrical rehearsals for "Uncle Vanya", and all that Russian ennui is weighing on his soul. So why not have his soul removed and placed in cold storage, in a lab run by Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn)? "If you'd rather avoid sales tax, it can be shipped to our New Jersey warehouse," Flintstein assures him. In a machine that looks like an MRI from Woody Allen's Sleeper, Giamatti as Giamatti gets his chickpea-shaped spirit (or at least 95% of it) siphoned out, complete with the sound effect of a toilet flushing. But Flintstein also deals in "transplants" and contracts with unscrupulous Russian mobsters, represented by soul-mule Nina (Dina Korzun), who hauls the raw materials in her own head through transatlantic customs...so Giamatti's valuable anima isn't in the most trustworthy hands. Korzun is moving as a woman whose heart is contaminated with the pain of others, but Giamatti is the hinge for this relatively flimsy contraption. Still, what a hinge: bored and detached after the removal of his soul, he runs on fumes from his lizard hindbrain, and his "Vanya" goes from troubled to comically inauthentic. No one wears embarrassment, frustration, or self-doubt better, and an agitated Giamatti is so twitchy he actually blurs. Without him, a bedroom confession to his wife (Emily Watson, squandered) is a worthless moment. With him, it's Chekhovian. A Russian-lit scholar could probably unearth levels in Cold Souls that are hidden to me, though the film is valuable in two unexpected ways: it contemplates the way Russian oligarchs commodify the lives of their countrymen for their own enrichment; and it makes me hungry to see Giamatti as Philip K. Dick in the much-discussed biopic The Owl in the Daylight. If we're going to talk about misplaced selves and implanted experiences, let's talk with a master, played by a masterful actor.