Saturday, 31 March 2012
FILM REVIEW: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE
Robert Smith: Nazi Hunter. That's one glib way to describe the odd yet oddly intriguing This Must Be The Place, a road movie of sorts with a Sean Penn performance unlike any other.
Penn plays Cheyenne, a one-time pop star who, despite his retirement from the music scene and his self imposed exile in Ireland, has kept his rock and roll wardrobe; a goth-drag combination which would appear to be modelled on The Cure's frontman, Mr. Smith, by way of Edward Scissorhands.
Cheyenne's comatose-like speech and movement, however, would suggest that Penn is also channelling present day Ozzy Osbourne. It's this distinct way of speaking -- a crackly whisper, if you like -- which some may find off putting, even annoying, but stick with it; Cheyenne will prove to be one of the most original and endearing characters of cinema 2012.
Filling his days wandering around his mansion, playing a variation of handball in the emptied swimming pool with his fire fighter wife, Jane (a too little seen Frances McDormand), and hanging with the young Mary (Eve Hewson), whom he attempts to play matchmaker for, Cheyenne also attempts to keep at bay the guilt over the death of a band mate who didn't make it out of the heady days of the early 1980s music scene.
But Cheyenne's life is taken in a whole new direction when he is called home to New York to see his estranged, ailing father. He's too late (travelling by boat rather than flying) as it turns out, but Cheyenne decides to take up his father's life long mission: hunting down the Nazi guard who humiliated him during his internment in Auschwitz.
It's here that Italian director Paolo Sorrentino's film (named for the Talking Heads song; front man David Byrne appears in the film) takes on the form of a road movie, as Cheyenne travels cross-country in pursuit of his man, experiencing a variety of encounters and connections along the way, including Nazi hunter, Mordecai Midler (Judd Hirsch), and single mum, Rachel (Kerry Condon).
Sorrentino, making his first English language film (co-written with Umberto Contarello), says he started with the idea of the life of an elderly Nazi criminal and worked backwards from there; someone to hunt for the Nazi and the unlikeliest person to do so. Hence, Cheyenne. Not just a pop star but one seemingly in a child-like state and floating through life; tethered only by a small suitcase on wheels which he takes everywhere. Yep, this guy has baggage!
But Sean Penn makes this man with the mousy voice and the androgynous look so appealing, so endearing that any doubts -- said voice and look -- are soon forgotten. And Penn, not surprisingly, manages to balance humour and pain almost effortlessly, rendering Cheyenne as human and not a mere gimmick.
Beautifully shot by Luca Bigazzi (the film's final scenes in Utah are stunning), This Must Be The Place has an almost dream-like hue to it, adding to the overall surreal quality of both the story and its protagonist.
And if like a dream, it doesn't necessarily make complete sense, the film, and Cheyenne, won't be so easily forgotten.