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This Must Be the Place

May 7, 2012

This Must Be the Place (2012)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Actors: Sean Penn, Judd Hirsch, Frances McDormand

This Must be the Place

Synopsis: Cheyenne (Sean Penn) a reclusive, middle-aged ex-rock star, wasting his time away in his Irish mansion, is forced to confront his past and re-assess his troubled relationship with his father, when ushered back to the US for his father’s funeral.

Review: This is one of the strangest, and yet inarguably distinctive and beautiful, feature films I’ve seen for many a year. There is a convergence of ideas, motifs and styles that mesh awkwardly, but somehow at the end, there was a form of emotional rapture that I can’t really decide on being a case of the story’s themes subtly catching up on me, or whether Sorrentino’s shamanistic direction has papered over the film’s innumerable cracks. To list all those jarring aspects would be impossible, but just to give you a flavour, we have a film that takes you from luxuriously bland locations on the coastline of Ireland, and the creepy suburbs of smalltown America, to the great expanses of the Rockies. We have a story that takes us from ennui rock-star depiction, to the death of a father and his subsequent funeral, through to (and this is most radical of all) Sean Penn’s rock-star going on a Nazi hunt across America to track down the man who humiliated his father many years before. Inescapable from all this is Sean Penn’s performance as the central character, Cheyenne. It’s a highly obtrusive, methody portrayal, and although I understand what Penn and Sorrentino are trying to do with the character, I feel it plays too much into the pathos and subtext of the piece. Some of Cheyenne’s faux pearls of wisdom are grating, although I appreciate Sorrentino is using them rhetorically as contrast to the all-too-real adult horrors of the Holocaust that offer the backstory to Cheyenne’s journey.

As for Sorrentino’s own directorial hallmark of distinctive visual tableaux – again, though in itself very arresting and beautiful –  it doesn’t always seem to integrate clearly with the subject matter, but often transmits as window-dressing to fast-track the narrative on to some greater level of emotional significance. Though seductive, I think ultimately the film has too many flaws to elevate it to the level of greatness, but I’m sure it will be a curio and cult film for years to come. (May 2012)

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