Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This Must Be the Place

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE             A-                   
Italy  France  Ireland  (118 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Paolo Sorrentino 

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb - born with a weak heart
(So I) guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong . . nothing

Hi yo I got plenty of time
Hi yo you got light in your eyes
And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up say goodnight . . . say goodnight

Home - is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can't tell one from the other
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time Before we were born
If someone asks, this where I'll be . . . where I'll be

Hi yo We drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head
Ah ooh

This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody), by Talking Heads, 1983  Talking Heads - This must be the place (Naive ...  YouTube (5:20), live performance from Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE (1984)

From one of the most original visual stylists working today, this is a very clever take on the stranger in a strange land theme, starting with a mystifyingly weird portrait of the stranger himself, Sean Penn as Cheyenne, a reclusive Goth rock star, now 50, who hasn’t performed in 20 years, something of a cross between the Cure’s Robert Smith and the stunted mental development of Ozzie Osborne, where the character is pathologically shy, continually speaks in the quietest voice register, and is perhaps understood only by his adoring wife Jane, Frances McDormand, who loves him unconditionally.  Cheyenne never travels, apparently, anywhere outside of walking distance of his home, an immense private estate in Dublin, Ireland where he pretty much remains locked inside, occasionally venturing out for groceries or trips to the mall, where he often meets Mary (Eve Hewson, daughter of U2’s Bono), perhaps his best friend, another Goth teenager or young twentysomething who has a room down the street with her mother, Olwen Fouéré, while also living much of the time with Cheyenne.  Cheyenne’s visits with her mother remain clouded in mystery, as she claims she hasn’t heard from her son Tony in years, that he simply disappeared without a word, leaving her in a perpetual state of mourning, lost in a fog, continually staring out the window.  In something of a parallel universe, his brain perhaps addled by drug and alcohol abuse, Cheyenne’s perpetual isolation and sadness leaves him on a similar emotional plane, both equally disconnected from the rest of the world.  It’s easy to see how anyone still looking that outrageous, wild hair, white pancake facial make up, and red lipstick, always dressed morbidly in black, is continually pointed at and made fun of by people in straight society who find him odd or different, often making fun of him behind his back.  This is another psychological barrier of social unacceptability that he’s used to, as the world has been taken over by over-produced, over-hyped musical acts where talent is barely even necessary.          

Co-written by the director with Umberto Contarello, who also co-writes the latest Bertolucci film ME AND YOU (2012), this is the first English-language Sorrentino film, which initially feels like a parody of a burnt out rock star, living off the extravagance of his royalties, but turning into a Michael Jackson recluse, complete with a clearly visible personality disorder.  What truly makes all Sorrentino films unique is the brilliant cinematography of Luca Bigazzi, where his camerawork is simply exceptional, often mixing exaggeratedly stylish Brian De Palma style crane shots with another look more reminiscent of the oversaturated colors of Lynne Ramsay, where he’s actively engaged in developing every shot.  The entire tone of the film shifts when Cheyenne’s father in New York City dies, where we learn he hasn’t spoken to him in 30 years, remaining convinced his father never loved him.  At the funeral, we learn his father was a Holocaust survivor who was obsessed with tracking down the Nazi prison guard from Auschwitz still living in America.  While in New York, in perhaps the scene of the film, Cheyenne runs into David Byrne who performs the title track, This Must Be The Place (live from movie 2011) - YouTube (4:27), an odd but lyrically poetic comment on home, where in a quiet discussion between the two of them afterwards we learn Cheyenne quit performing when two depressed kids took his morbid lyrics too seriously and committed suicide, an example of art resembling life, based on a real life incident in 1985 in Reno by two brothers that happened to be avid fans of Judas Priest.  Tortured ever since, he is seen earlier in the film visiting the Irish gravesite of one of the boys.  Suddenly inspired, obviously taking him completely by surprise, Cheyenne decides to search for this elusive Nazi figure, turning this into a road movie of America, as seen from an often amusing European vantage point.  Rather than outwardly impressing the viewer, this may be the most subtle of all Sorrentino films and perhaps the most artistically inspired, as the subjects that he visits are cautiously approached, where there are close to half a dozen different cover versions of the title song, each conceptually different offering a unique expression of home. 
Weirdly elusive and oddly intoxicating, as channeled through Cheyenne this is certainly one of the more unusual ways to approach the subject of the Holocaust, where Cheyenne is fond of saying “Something's wrong here. I don't know exactly what it is, but something's wrong here.”  As he goes in search of the perpetrator’s family members, staying at cheap, rundown, roadside motels, calling his befuddled wife from pay phones along the road, where these visits with strangers are astonishingly tender, as the introverted Cheyenne is just as soft-spoken, but what he has to say is more direct and to the point, where in contrast to his gloomy outward expression, his gentle nature reveals an amazingly attentive listener, where he actually displays curious insight into his so-called subjects.  Peppered with original musical selections throughout, much of them shot using a music video style, most written by Will Oldham and David Byrne and performed by a band named The Pieces of Shit, Sorrentino creates a highly impressionistic Americanized landscape, occasionally adding the poetic lyricism of Arvo Pärt’s Intro - Gerry - Gus Van Sant - YouTube (5:21), initially heard here in an excerpt from Gus van Sant’s GERRY (2002) that beautifully parallels this film’s similar drive into the desert.  One of his visits is to the granddaughter of the Nazi war criminal, Rachel (Kerry Condon), who knows nothing of his Nazi past, whose somewhat shy son takes a peculiar fascination to Cheyenne, actually coercing him to play guitar while he enthusiastically sings (joyously off key) the title track as his mother proudly looks on, Sean Penn, Singing, movie, this must be the place ... YouTube (1:42).  Harry Dean Stanton has an amusing albeit brief cameo, additionally there is a skillful and poignant use of a probing inner narration from the journals of Cheyenne’s deceased father, but Sorrentino’s kinetically inspiring visualizations hold the key to the film, as it is in the desolate emptiness of a desert landscape encased in wintry snow that he finds his fugitive, a place that may as well be the end of the world.  Told with restraint, the audience is always backed into a different way of discovering each of these subjects, as Cheyenne is the least confrontational lead actor you could possibly imagine, suddenly transformed into Edward G. Robinson in the Nazi-hunter role chasing down war criminal Orson Welles in his film THE STRANGER (1946).  In preparation for this moment, Cheyenne actually walks into a gun shop and purchases a weapon, where the owner explains the psychological transformation that happens when you hold the right weapon in your hand, as it allows you to “kill with impunity.”  Thematically, this appears to parallel the monstrous Nazi mindset in exterminating the Jews, so perhaps not surprisingly, Cheyenne must seek an alternative path and rise above the frustratingly obsessive yet ineffective methods of his father in dealing with the past, finding his own revelatory road to redemption. 

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