THIS MUST BE THE PLACE
Cheyenne (Sean Penn), a former rock star living quietly in Dublin with his wife Jane (Frances McDormand), is summoned to his estranged father's deathbed - but fear of flying means taking the boat to New York, landing him there in time for the funeral. He learns about his Jewish father's wartime persecutor, an ex-Nazi war criminal hiding out in the US. He sets off to confront the man - if he can find him.
Review by Louise Keller:
Something's not quite right, Cheyenne (Sean Penn) mutters several times through this unusual character study in which a depressed Goth rock star heads on a road trip in search of a Nazi war-criminal. While the elements sound intriguing, the execution of Paolo Sorrentino's ambitious story, which he co-wrote with Umberto Contarello, is bizarre - in an artificial way. Sorrentino first met Penn in 2008 when he was President of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival and Sorrentino was awarded the Jury Prize for his film Il Divo. Their mutual admiration was the trigger for this film.
With his toenails painted black to match his clothes, thick black liner around his eyes, bright red lipstick smudged across his lips and a beehive of jet black hair around his shoulders, the first sight of Penn as Cheyenne is not one you are likely to forget. He is a tragic figure, who speaks slowly in a high-pitched monotone and leads an eccentric millionaire's life mooning around his Dublin mansion. Refusing a cigarette, he retorts that smoking is only for kids who haven't grown up. Jane (Frances McDormand), his wife of 35 years is surprisingly normal with a down to earth manner and a caring disposition. The fact that they obviously have an active sex life comes somewhat as a revelation. If ever there was an odd couple, this is it.
It is the death of Cheyenne's estranged, Jewish father, whose humiliation in Auschwitz had left deep scars, that prompts him to make a pilgrimage to America and search for the man. The journey begins in New York, where Central Park is ablaze with autumn colours and there's a stilted, somewhat surreal performance by David Byrne, who also wrote the film's score. There's a stop in Michigan for an encounter with a tattooist and his former history teacher. Then he meets a young mother at a diner in New Mexico, whose chubby son sings the song This Must Be The Place, to Cheyenne's guitar accompaniment. He buys a gun, too, before heading to Utah. This is where the film's most powerful scene plays out.
It's easy to see what attracted Penn to the role of Cheyenne, although the film's entire premise is highly self indulgent. Penn's performance, while striking and commendable, is overly mannered, never allowing me to properly believe in the character. All too often, I was watching a masterful actor delivering a colourful performance. Sorrentino has impressed his own filmic style on the proceedings, keeping the tempo at snail pace, often honing in on intense close-ups - of the nose, the eyes or the mouth. As a result, the film feels terminally long as Cheyenne's journey comes to its inevitable conclusion. There's a mascara truckload of interest at work, but only an eyelash of satisfaction.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An ageing, dying Nazi is pursued by one of his victims from the terrible concentration camps - or by someone on their behalf; it's become a movie cliché even though our emotional response remains engaged. What makes This Must Be The Place different is that it's told for reasons of cinematic interest as much as for its cathartic, redemptive or retributional values.
The film's great calling card is it's uniqueness - some might call it freaky or a novelty, but in any case, it's not a film we've seen before. There is the visual blast of Sean Penn as a lipsticked, big haired, eyelinered former rock star shuffling his way across the frame at zero miles per hour, his speech a slow monotone, as if speaking with the handbrake on. Somewhere between eccentric and brain dead, Penn's Cheyenne is an absurdist figure, symbolic of the filmmakers' forced style. It's hard to believe in him.
Cheyenne lives in an expensive Dublin mansion (decades after retiring) with his loving wife Jane (an underused and flat Frances McDormand), and if he were given a test, his signs of life would barely register. Interest in the character relies almost entirely on his physicality and his occasionally absurd utterances.
After a long first act to establish Cheyenne, the screenplay splutters into road movie mode as Cheyenne begins his search for former Nazi camp officer Aloise Lange (Heinz Lieven). But it's not the story that fascinates director Paolo Sorrentino but what stylistics he can play with in the process. There are many, ranging from random, seemingly pointless close ups to a jagged discordant play out in the third act, in which angled music cues alert us to the film's chaotic finish. He is in love with the idea that a reclusive and worn out rock star could be the hunter ... but this isn't enough on which to build a full-blooded movie.
Before we reach a resolution, we have to endure oblique and opaque scenes of Cheyenne crossing America in a borrowed black 4WD, a gesture from one of several randomly introduced characters who fail to register their relevance - other than delivering cinematic perks for Sorrentino. Like a performance of the song that forms the title, by David Byrne, in one of those oddly out-of-context scenes adorned with attempts at a surreal tone.
Ironically, since the filmmaker has avoided traditional narrative to reveal his story, one of the film's very few highlights is the scene near the end when we meet the Nazi. It's a brilliantly inventive sequence in which for the first time we are moved by a complexity of emotions and grasp the underlying contradictions of the human condition.
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THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (M)
CAST: Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Eve Hewson, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Joyce Van Patten, David Byrne, Olwen Fouere
PRODUCER: Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano, Andrea Occhipinti
DIRECTOR: Paolo Sorrentino
SCRIPT: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Luca Bigazzi
MUSIC: David Byrne, Will Oldham
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stefania Cella
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 5, 2012