This Must be the Place is a very strange parable of self-discovery that attempts to unite the worlds of Goth rock and Nazi hunters.
Sean Penn stars as Cheyenne an ageing American, Robert Smith-like Goth rocker who shuffles around his adopted Irish town in a matted fright wig and bright red lip stick.
Damaged after a lifetime of drug use and still traumatized by two fans’ suicides, he embarks on an unusual odyssey across the US where he hopes to reconcile with his father and track down the man who humiliated his father in Auschwitz.
As if the plot wasn’t weird enough, Director Paulo Sorrentino gives the film the Wes Anderson treatment with lots of blank faces staring at the camera, long silences, quirky humour and odd, occasionally insightful dialogue. Unfortunately the quirkiness becomes tiresome and sits uncomfortably with the film’s other themes such as the aftermath of the holocaust. This quirkiness combined with the fact that it’s unclear who some characters are, makes it difficult to connect emotionally with the people in this film.
Penn is of course a fine actor and makes the most of the material but even he can’t make this character anything more than an amusing curiosity. Queen of quirk Frances McDormand as Cheyenne’s wife is always a likeable screen presence but she’s exactly the same character she is in every other film. Judd Hirsch appears as an aggressive Nazi Hunter but he seems like a character who’s dropped in from a Coen Brothers movie. There’s also an obvious homage to the filmmaker’s 80’s pop-cultural obsessions with cameos from David Byrne (awkwardly as himself) and Harry Dean Stanton as some guy in a truck stop café who seems to think he’s in a Jim Jarmusch film. David Byrne is also, along with Will Oldham, the co-writer of the film’s folky soundtrack songs.
While some may find this film irritatingly odd, few would deny that it’s great to look at with stunning vistas of the vast American landscape and memorable images of the unusual people Penn meets on his journey.
Not an entirely successful experiment but amusing and visually impressive enough to warrant a look.
Director: Paulo Sorrentino
Released: 5th April 2012
Running time: 118 mins