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This Must Be The Place

This Must Be The Place

Released 23 March 2012
Director Paolo Sorrentino

Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Eve Hewson, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Joyce Van Patten, David Byrne, Olwen Fouere, Shea Whigham, Liron Levo, Simon Delaney, Heinz Lieven

Umberto Contarello, Paolo Sorrentino

Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano, Andrea Occhipinti, Mario Spedaletti
Origin Italy, France, Ireland
Running Time 118 minutes
Genre Comedy, drama
Rating 15A

American gothic.

When Harry Dean Stanton appears for a brief cameo in Paolo Sorrentino’s new film This Must Be The Place, he can’t help but carry with him the spectre of his defining role in Wim Wenders’ 1984 work Paris, Texas. That film also marked the point when an acclaimed European director first dipped their toes into both the English language film and the iconic genre of the American road movie. What Wenders produced was a modern classic. Sorrentino (director of Il Divo, The Consequences of Love) hasn’t fared so well; This Must Be The Place has some major flaws that can’t be overlooked and I suspect that its idiosyncrasies will get under quite a few people’s skin. If they don’t though, you’ll find much to enjoy here.

The film follows a journey undertaken by retired rock star Cheyenne (Sean Penn). Cheyenne lives with his wife (Frances McDormand) in a mansion in Dublin. A goth-rocker in the mould of The Cure’s Robert Smith, he hasn’t left behind the heavy make-up and back-combed hair of his earlier years, now accompanied by a shuffling gait, slack expression and spaced-out voice. His life of deadening boredom is shaken when he returns to America for his father’s funeral. Upon learning that his father had been working on tracking down a Nazi guard who had persecuted him during the Holocaust, Cheyenne takes to the road to finish the hunt.

Cheyenne is at once the film’s biggest asset and its biggest problem. Sean Penn transforms himself and is utterly believable in the role. His strange mannerisms are paired with a dry sense of humour and I for one found him utterly charming. However, he is an incongruous fit with the serious subject matter the film turns to in its second half. His search for the Nazi criminal is undertaken out of boredom rather than familial loyalty. As a result, I felt a conflict between wanting to spend time in this characters company and feeling uneasy about his fit with the subject matter. It’s a conflict that doesn’t resolve itself and the film’s ending just doesn’t work.

Nevertheless, Sorrentino has a talented eye for creating unusual angles, surreal juxtapositions and interesting compositions. Each scene is visually exciting. Despite its problems then, This Must Be The Place is always watchable and the combination of Sorretino’s eye and Penn’s sheer force of personality just about pull it through.

- Linda O’Brien