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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 is wasting his time away in his Irish mansion. He is forced, however, 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 films of the year so far, yet there is something about it that is inarguably distinctive and beautiful. It contains a convergence of ideas, styles and motifs that mesh awkwardly, but, somehow, by the end of the film, it elicits a form of emotional rapture that is either a case of the story’s themes subtly catching up on the viewer, or Sorrentino’s shamanistic direction papering 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 – most radically of all – Sean Penn’s rock-star, Cheyenne, 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. It’s a highly obtrusive, methody portrayal, and though I understand what Penn and Sorrentino are trying to do with the character, its demonstrativeness plays, at times, too much into the pathos and subtext of the piece. Some of Cheyenne’s faux pearls of wisdom are grating, though Sorrentino is clearly using them rhetorically as contrast to the all-too-real adult horrors of the Holocaust that offers the backstory to Cheyenne’s journey.

As for Sorrentino’s own directorial hallmark of distinctive visual tableaux doesn’t always seem to integrate clearly with the subject matter, but often transmits as window-dressing to fast-track the narrative onto some greater level of emotional significance. Though seductive, the film ultimately has too many jarring flaws, though it will no doubt be a curio and cult film for years to come. (May 2012)

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