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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

SIFF Dispatch: Cold Souls, The One-Handed Trick, and Fear Me Not

I finally caught up with Cold Souls, which I managed to miss at Sundance in spite of a couple folks who know me well suggesting I might like it. The film entertwines the tales of Paul Giamatti (playing a fictionalized version of himself) as an actor stressing about an upcoming performance who decides to have his soul temporarily removed so he can get through it, and a Russian woman who works as a “mule” illegally transporting black market souls from Russia to America. It’s a fascinating concept, a bit reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though less twisted plot-wise and less artistically rendered.
Giamatti’s performance, though, is fantastic — the film is absolutely worth seeing just for him — and I liked the creativity of the screenplay, though I kind of wish director Sophie Barthes had delved a bit deeper into all the moral and philosophical implications of the idea. It’s more idea-centric sci-fi than intellectual exploration, but it’s fun, and there are surprisingly funny moments throughout.

Barthes said in the post-screening Q&A that the idea for the film came to her in a dream about standing in a line of people who’d had their souls removed. The person in front of her in line, she said, was Woody Allen, and when she started framing the script she had him in mind for the role. But she decided Allen wasn’t the right age, and probably wouldn’t be accessible, so she ended up framing the script with Giamatti in her mind’s eye as the lead, and when opportunity presented itself at the Nantucket Film Festival, she approached him about the idea and asked him to read the script.
Giamatti read it, and liked it so much that his production company funded half the cost of the project. And with Giamatti on board, Barthes noted, it was much easier to secure the rest of the financing. Asked during the Q&A whether the character of himself in the film is really his own personality, Giamatti smirked and said, “Okay, smartass … ” before going on to add that he certainly hoped not; he noted that there had been times when Barthes had revised the script so that it felt too personal, or had too many real details about his life, and that he wasn’t comfortable with that so changes were made.
The second-half of my SIFF double-feature last night was a Spanish film called The One-Handed Trick (although, interestingly, the subtitled title on the screen said “The Handless Trick”). This is a rough, edgy film about a couple of life-trodden best friends, Cuajco (Juan Manuel Montilla “Langui”) and Adolfo (Ovono Candela). Cuajco has cerebral palsy and bigger dreams than the vocational work of selling lottery tickets on the street that life has planned for him. He also has a pain-in-the-ass, trouble-making brother who’s his mother’s favorite by virtue of his lack of physical affliction. Adolfo has an alcoholic father and a heroin habit of his own he’s trying to kick. When the pair get kicked out of a music studio while recording, Cuajco becomes determined to build their own studio, where Adolfo will work the boards and be able to stay off drugs.
Although the film is dark and not what I would call particularly uplifting, the performances by the two leads are solid, and Cuajco is just so darn likable you can’t help but root for him to succeed past the many roadblocks in his path. Director and co-writer Santiago Zannou does something here that so many indie directors fail to do: he shows us interesting characters doing interesting things, with something at stake we can care about. We don’t see Cuajco and Adolfo sitting around coffee shops talking about women, or moaning about how boring their mundane jobs are, or pondering where to go on vacation. Once they start down the path toward reaching this seemingly impossible dream, they have a lot on the line and every action they take affects it. It’s a well-done, interesting film of the sort that an American remake would completely lose the point of, so catch it at a fest if you can, or pray to the indie film gods for an American arthouse release.The film won three 2008 Goya Awards (the Spanish equivalent of the Academy Awards), for Best Director, Best Actor (Langui) and Best Original Song.
Earlier in the fest, I caught a marvelous Danish psychological thriller, Dogme 95 director Kristian Levring’s Fear Me Not. The film was written by Anders Thomas Jensen, who also wrote and directed Adam’s Apples, which I saw at Sundance a few years ago and very much enjoyed; Jensen also wrote the script for With Your Permission, which was directed by Paprika Steen, who stars in this film, along with Ulrich Thomsen, who played the violent, creepy Adam in Adam’s Apple. Apparently the Danish film community is pretty tight-knit.
This time around, Steen plays Sigrid, who’s married to Mikael (Thomsen). Thomsen is creepy in a more mild-mannered way here than he was in Adam’s Apples, conveying this tightly wound, psychotic-tinged tension that makes you feel uncomfortable even before he starts acting weird after taking part in a medical study of a new anti-depressant. What makes Fear Me Not so effective is this idea of being married to someone for so many years and then seeing them very rapidly become a completely different, very unpleasant person who may be trying to harm you, or at least make you paranoid about your safety and your own psychological well-being. It’s tautly directed, and tense throughout … in a good way.
Fear Me Not comes out on IFC Festival Direct on June 10.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon