Wednesday, October 26, 2011

London Film Fest 2011 Day 15 - THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

Rabartu Smitu, Rabartu Smitu, 
tashiwa ga suki Rabartu Smitu

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is a visually inventive but often frustratingly slow-paced film that bravely tries to juxtapose whimsical comedy and serious history with problematic results. 

Sean Penn plays an ageing, bored and depressed former goth rock-star called Cheyenne. His high-pitched voice and Robert Smith clothes mark him as a man-child, trapped in his adolescence, but anchored by the love of his down-to-earth wife, Jane (Frances McDormand) and the friendship of emotionally scarred fan-girl, Mary. The death of his father forces Cheyenne back to America. Almost on a whim, he sets off on a meandering road-trip, searching for the Nazi that had tormented his father. But despite a very moving late scene of confession and humiliation, this is not really a revenge movie at all, but rather a character drama about an estranged son breaking beyond that emotional vacuum in order to become a man.

The casting is strong - with Sean Penn and Frances McDormand complemented by strong cameos from Harry Dean Stanton, Judd Hirsch (as a Simon Wiesenthal cipher) and Heinz Lieven as the Nazi. And the script, by Umberto Contarello, contains many belly-laughs, and superlative dramatic set-pieces. But as with all Paolo Sorrentino movies, the true stars are Luca Bigazzi's fluid, deliberate, elegant camera-work and the flamboyant use of the musical score, this time, by the legendary David Byrne. Technically, this film is flawless and imaginative. 

But it didn't grab me, fascinate me, in the same way as Sorrentino's previous films - IL DIVO and THE FAMILY FRIEND. This is partly because the character of Cheyenne is, however sympathetic, also rather slow and whimsical, and after a while this started to grate. It's partly because the road-trip in the second half is so random and slow. I know that this is the point - that is should have the kind of magic and wonder of THE STRAIGHT STORY - but I did become very impatient with it. And finally, I guess I just felt too uncomfortable with the deliberate juxtaposition of the Holocaust with the character of Cheyenne - the man least likely to come to mind as a Nazi hunter. Something about the man using the hunt for the Nazi as a kind of distraction from a life of satiety, and then as a kind of agent toward self-knowledge, felt weird and exploitative. I know this was a deliberate provocation from Sorrentino - but for me it just didn't work. 

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE played Cannes 2011 where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. It opened earlier this year in France and is currently on release in Italy. It opens in Germany on November 10th, in Sweden on November 18th, in the US in December, in Australia on December 26th, in Poland on February 3rd, in Spain in March and in the UK on March 9th. 

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