This Must Be the Place (2011)

Director:  Paolo Sorrentino
Cast:  Sean PennFrances McDormand and Judd Hirsch
Plot:  A bored, retired rock star sets out to find his father's executioner, an ex-Nazi war criminal who is a refugee in the U.S.

Genre:  Comedy/Drama

Awards:  Won Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  118min
Rating:  NC16 for some coarse language, and brief sexual scene.


It's hard not to look away when Sean Penn is on screen.  It's even more difficult to do so when he puts on lipstick, eye shadow, and powders his face so white that I'm convinced he might take years to remove it.  And I haven't mentioned about his hair...

Cheyenne is his character's name, and he is a retired rock star who claims to have performed a piece with Mick Jagger in his younger days.  When his father dies, he sets out to find his father's persecutor, an ex-Nazi war criminal who is in refuge in the U.S.

The plot seems to be on the strange side, and as much as this film is about a jaded rock star trying to find a purpose in life, it is also a contemplative and occasionally meditative look at the meaning of life.

For Cheyenne, life is a series of encounters with folks from around the country, many of whom have nothing in common with him.  But he realizes...'to each his or her own', a powerful mantra in life that not only helps to allow one to be at ease with oneself, but to be at ease with others as well.

Penn's performance is extraordinary.  It is no surprise to many that he is a splendid actor, perhaps one of the best of his generation, yet he still surprises us with his versatility, and his ability to take on any role, no matter how demanding.  And yes, Cheyenne is a demanding role that requires the actor to not only look more feminine, but also to act like a small child.

You see, Cheyenne is a child at heart, stuck at a perpetual age of fifteen.  Penn deserves an Oscar nomination, though admittedly This Must Be the Place may have been considered too arty for anyone to take notice.

Under the sublime direction of Paolo Sorrentino (The Consequences of Love, 2004; Il Divo, 2008), This Must Be the Place is a film of beautiful imageries that when combined with the invigorating music and songs by David Byrne produce some incredible moments.  The film employs numerous crane shots and wide shots to emphasize the vastness of life, and especially life at its most beautiful.

There is one virtuoso long-take sequence that sees a woman seemingly alone, sitting on a couch in her room.  There's music playing.  But where is it coming from?  The camera then tracks back slowly to reveal Bryne and his band on stage playing that music.

As the camera tracks back even further, we see a large crowd cheering the performers on.  All this while, the entire 'room' that the aforementioned woman is in begins to tilt and suspend in the air, moving towards the disbelieving crowd.

Sorrentino's film feels like a road movie, and although Cheyenne's focus on revenging his father's humiliation by the Nazi officer doesn't quite translate well enough to drive the narrative forward with intent (the film meanders here and there for most parts), This Must Be the Place scores points for the strength of Penn's performance and its picturesque cinematography. 

This Sorrentino film scores for its stunning performance by Sean Penn and its really, really beautiful cinematography.

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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