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Monday, 24 September 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - This Must Be The Place

Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino

Produced by: Francesca Cima
Nicola Giuliano
Andrea Occhipinti

Screenplay by: Paolo Sorrentino
Umberto Contarello

Story by: Paolo Sorrentino

Starring: Sean Penn
Frances McDormand
Judd Hirsch
Eve Hewson
Kerry Condon
Harry Dean Stanton
Joyce Van Patten
David Byrne

Cinematography by: Luca Bigazzi

Editing by: Christiano Travaglioli

Studio(s): Lucky Red
Medusa Film
Indigo Film

Distributed by: Element Pictures

Release date(s): May 20, 2011 (Cannes Film Festival)
August 24, 2011 (France)
October 14, 2011 (Italy)
March 21, 2012 (Ireland)
April 6, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 118 minutes

Country(s): Ireland

Language: English

Production budget: (N/A)

Box office revenue: $11, 647, 000

Hey hey, folks. As seems to be the usual procedure, you can probably tell by now I've been a bit on the slow front, in case I haven't yammered on about it already. So, after this review, which will be my last for the month of August (yes, August!), I'll proceed forward with a Movie of the Month and cracking on into the month of September. I can guarantee reviews for Dredd and Samsara, and somewhere along the lines there'll be something for Chronicle, so ladies and germs, as ever, in case I haven't said it before (and in case I have said in case already!), keep your eyes posted.

Right, so, today's film is This Must Be The Place. It is the new picture from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, who had made a name for himself in the international film world with films such as The Consequences Of Love, The Family Friend and Il Divo (not related to the Simon Cowell pet project of the same name). Starring Sean Penn, who was impressed with Sorrentino's previous film at the 2008 Cannes Film Fesival, of which he headed the jury, This Must Be The Place follows Cheyenne, a rich, middle-aged rock star living in Dublin. Bored with retirement, he heads to New York to be reunited with his dying father, only to arrive too late. Jaded at ther poor relationship and his failure to reconcile with him, he sets out to travel across America to find the SS officer who persecuted his father in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

To start off the review, almost with a disclaimer given the plot synopsis, this is not a po-faced existential drama, okay. I think it was very wise for Sorrentino and his fellow screenwriter Umberto Contarello to go for a more humorous tone that might be expected of this type of film. In essence, it is a comedy along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine, as it has elements of drama but is kept entertaining by the comedic side of things. There are some genuinely hilarious moments that rely not on gross-out humour, but on the amusing events that can happen in our everyday lives. Scenes involving the lead character in day-to-day routine activities, such as wandering around in a shopping centre and supermarket become nice little pieces of situational comedy. Most of this is down to the larger-than-life Cheyenne, who is written terrifically on paper, but truly succeeds due to the performance of Sean Penn. It is the least overt 'Sean Penn' performance I have seen in years, and the mellow, quiet Cheyenne is a complete portrait of nuances. Little things like his blowing of the one strand of hair that never seems to stay in place, his bizarre stop-start squeak of a laugh, and his soft-spoken way of speaking. Above and beyond the great job the make-up, hair and costume department have done with him, Cheyenne is made whole by Penn's naturalistic acting. Also worthy of mention in a positive light is Luca Bigazzi's innovative cinematography. There are quite a few long takes, but in virtually none of them is the camera static. The scene that I thought at first was going into overkill at the David Byrne concert sees the camera eventually swoop round and bring its focus on the solitary figure of Cheyenne, looking rather sullen in the midst of the performance of This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody). Bigazzi's long takes emphasise the efforts of the actors craft, and tell us, through engaging camera movements and without ramming it down our throats, the emotional angst of Cheyenne. As such, in this vein I must congratulate the tact with which editor Christiano Travaglioli has cut the film. The long takes are one of the film's unique characteristics, and a more slash-happy editor could have ruined the effect created by them. Finally, as a director Paolo Sorrentino maintains a certain level of control about the overall proceedings. This Must Be The Place could have been a really messy film, but the fact that Sorrentino focuses (for the most part) on the characteristic that make the film stand out from the pack means that he should be applauded. 

These kind things being said, there are a number of issues involved with the film. Just as a sort of preface, I'll try not to sound like I'm repeating myself, but these are issues that have been cropping up time and again in films this past month. For starters, I have a few problems with the screenplay. It's not bad, it might even be a good screenplay, but there are some issues. I think Cheyenne's meeting with all these minor characters in what is essentially a road movie is occasionally troublesome. Most of these encounters cover the same ground that we have went over before, and structurally the screenplay repeats itself, like a number of shots late in the film, over and over again. It means that although the film is pretty consistent, it is also cursed with an inherent repetitiveness. Perhaps Sorrentino should have delegated more power in the collaborative process to other people, as auteur/writer-directors sometimes get too involved and can't objectively judge their own material. Also, an this is where the broken record comes into place, I was frustrated by the use of the music. Don't get me wrong, I like Talking Heads (in particular More Songs About Building And Food), and This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) is used well in the film as an appropriate anthem, but I thought the other music was uninspired. Also, the music interjected too much in the traditional style of film scores, and thus like all of art's great paradoxes, the right places to put a score become the predictable wrong places. Furthermore, it did reek a bit of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra. Sorry, David, the scales of my own personal sense of justice have spoken!

Despite these problems, This Must Be The Place remains a very good film. Sorrentino as a director keeps a good level and control, doing his best to flag up the film's unique characteristics. In particular, the tone of absurdism is an inspired decision, making what could have been an incredibly po-faced drama become at heart a whimsical, playful comedy with some dramatic moments. These scenes are often elevated by the strength of Luca Bigazzi's cinematography. The driving force here is of course the character of Cheyenne, who not only is well-written on paper, but wonderfully realised in a restrained, subtle and nuanced performance from Sean Penn.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - A strange one (for some reason I don't feel like I don't have much to do)

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