Dean Spanley, an adaptation of a novel about a curmudgeon in Edwardian England and Cold Souls, about a New York actor in the 21st Century, have several things in common: the premise that the soul exists; respect for the intelligence of their audience; and, a wonderful sense of the absurd. These films share comic moments that are wildly funny and they also share sad themes -- an estranged relationship between a father and son, and loss of one's soul -- each treated with exquisite care and warmheartedness by their actors and directors.
No matter what your view of reincarnation happens to be, I suspect you'll love Dean Spanley, a strange and deliciously witty film directed by Toa Fraser, with Peter O'Toole, Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, and Bryan Brown. I would have said starring but the pitch perfect ensemble acting of these extraordinary actors makes "starring" a silly-sounding word. I missed the very beginning of the film the first time I saw it on television because my husband was doing that surfing thing men do with remotes so I hadn't a clue as to what was going on but soon saw this is a story about souls, seances, and silliness -- and a great deal of love. Toa Fraser's direction is flawless. I don't want to spoil the surprises with a spoiler so let's just say dog lovers will love this gem. I purchased a DVD of Dean Spanley and having just watched it, am still smiling.
Cold Souls, written and directed by Sophie Barthes and starring Paul Giamatti, is also about soul transportation but in this bizarre, quirky story the souls travel here on earth, specifically between Russia and the USA. Believing his weary soul is adversely affecting his acting in "Uncle Vanya," Giamatti responds to a magazine article in The New Yorker about a corporation that provides soul storage and rentals. Giamatti's performance is hilarious whether looking understandably concerned as his body is inserted into the soul extraction machine that looks like a giant misshapen snowball, crawling on the floor to look for his tiny soul that he inadvertently dropped, or asking, "What is my soul doing in St. Petersburg?" Going for the heart instead of the laughs in a later scene, Giamatti's Vanya with a Russian poet's soul he has rented in him is stunning. David Strathairn is wonderfully funny as the scientific and sympathetic Dr. Flintstein. Russian actress Dina Korzun, is lovely as Nina, the woman who smuggles souls from St. Petersburg to New York.
If you like laughter along with a dose of warmheartedness, I recommend Dean Spanley and Cold Souls.