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New Surrealist: Sophie Barthes

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The Sundance Film Festival has been good to East Village filmmaker Sophie Barthes. The French-born director impressed the festival in 2007 with her philosophical short film Happiness, about a Brighton Beach woman who buys a box of joy and struggles with whether or not to open it. That earned her a slot in Sundance’s prestigious Screenwriters Lab, where she wrote and polished her first feature. Just two years later, she’s back with Cold Souls and a cast any debut filmmaker would kill for: Paul Giamatti plays a burned-out New York actor who removes his soul in order to shrug off some pressure, and David Strathairn performs the extraction. (Yes, the Charlie Kaufman comparisons are already buzzing.) Barthes’s idea for the movie came from a dream in which she was standing behind Woody Allen: “He was wearing a Sleeper costume,” she says. “A secretary comes and says, ‘Our souls have been extracted.’ Woody opens his box and sees that his soul is a chickpea, and he’s like, ‘I’ve made 40 movies! My soul is not a chickpea!’ I’m super-anxious, thinking, ‘If Woody Allen has a chickpea soul, what is mine gonna look like?’ I look down into my box—and I wake up.” Where does she think the dream came from? “The last eight years,” she says, “I’ve just felt like my soul was shrinking—so many people not wanting to feel anything because the country was such a mess.”


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