Jaded rocker's quest too unfocused

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 9:44am

This Must Bethe Place

Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Eve Hewson

Director: Paolo Sorrentino


It's named after a Talking Heads track, features a specially staged performance of said song by David Byrne (playing himself), and stars Eve Hewson - daughter of Paul, aka Bono - as fan and confidante of its goth-rocker protagonist. Overlaid with so many references to popular music past and present, This Must Be the Place might as well be Paolo Sorrentino's mischievous riposte to those who criticised his previous work as being like music videos, where visual panache reigned over humanity and depth.

But if the Italian filmmaker has shaped premise with irony, his efforts have backfired: This Must Be the Place is, indeed, a superficial mishmash of throw-away ideas and visual gags.

The film begins in Dublin, where jaded rock star Cheyenne (Sean Penn) passes his time dressed like The Cure's Robert Smith. When he's not slacking at his mansion or pulling a shopping cart around town, he meets up with Mary (Hewson) in shopping malls to talk about, well, nothing much.

Later, when visiting his friend Byrne in New York, Cheyenne reveals the inner pain he is carrying: unlike his art-pop pal, he's writing "depressed songs for depressed kids" - two of whom have killed themselves to his music.

So far, so much a slight caricature - until Cheyenne is assigned to hit the American roads to locate the Nazi criminal who humiliated his father in a concentration camp.

Just as Cheyenne is called on to confront an adult world out there, Sorrentino abandons his pop music homage and twists his film into a mixture of European arthouse, road movie and the myths of the western.

Unlike Cheyenne, however, there's not much closure to be had: Sorrentino flails and flutters as he touches on the grand issues, but he is ultimately unable to draw deeper values and meanings from them. To paraphrase the titular song, it's as if he's making it up as he goes along, with his feet on the ground, head in the sky - and the film heading out in all directions but arriving nowhere.

Extras: interviews with Sorrentino and the cast; deleted scenes; and an extended performance of This Must Be the Place.

Clarence Tsui