This Must Be the Place (film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

This Must Be the Place is a 2011 drama film directed by Paolo Sorrentino, written by Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello. It stars Sean Penn and Frances McDormand. The film deals with a middle-aged wealthy rock star who becomes bored in his retirement and takes on the quest of finding his father's tormentor, a Nazi war criminal who is a refugee in the United States.

The film was an Italian majority production with co-producers in France and Ireland. Principal photography began in August 2010. Filming took place in Ireland and Italy, as well as the states of Michigan, New Mexico and New York. The film was in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.


Cheyenne (Sean Penn) is a wealthy former rock star, now bored and jaded in his retirement in Dublin. He travels to New York to reconcile with his estranged father during his final hours, only to arrive too late. After learning of his father's persecution in Auschwitz at the hands of former SS Officer Aloise Lange, Cheyenne begins a journey across the country to track down Lange, who is now hiding out in the United States. The journey that ensues is reminiscent of a Kerouac style storyline. Cheyenne meets a variety of people including the wife of Lange, Lange's granddaughter and a businessman. He buys a large gun for his designs of revenge. At the gun shop, a bystander mentions to him that the style of gun Cheyenne wants to buy lets people "kill with impunity" and further says that people who are licensed to be monsters (e.g. kill with impunity) only want to be monsters. When Cheyenne eventually tracks Lange down with the aid of a professional Nazi-hunter, who told him about Lange in the first place, Cheyenne hears his story and subsequently changes his mind. In Lange's monologue, he mentions that he had correspondence with Cheyenne's father - the recurring letter that is presumed by the audience to be narration of Cheyenne's father's journal was in fact a quotation from a letter from Lange that repeatedly called the Holocaust "the inferno". Lange reflects that after all the horrors of the Auschwitz concerntration camp, Cheyenne's father remembered Lange the most. This was because Cheyenne's father "did something wrong" and so Lange threatened to let loose his German shepard to attack him. Cheyenne's father was so frightened he wet himself. Before he leaves, Cheyenne takes a photo of Lange and whispers that it was an injustice for his father to die before Lange did. Prior to him just leaving, Cheyenne sees Lange emerge from his cabin in the freezing cold naked. The humiliation of Cheyenne's father mirrors this public embarrassment. Cheyenne then travels home via air plane (something he had previously had a strong phobia of) and cuts his bouffant rockstar hair down and removes his make up. He has finally made peace with his father, who he spited by wearing the aforementioned effeminate fashion. The implication is that Cheyenne has finally grown up.


Critical response

Jay Weissberg of Variety called This Must Be the Place "that rare film directed by a non-American that gets not just the locales but also the cadence of the language absolutely right, with a script full of great lines and images of lingering beauty." Weissberg continued: "Like all great directors who make a road movie, Sorrentino captures the physical location as well as the inner transformation[.] ... Sorrentino's America is a varied nation, one where Barack Obama and Sarah Palin spring from the same soil, and where narrow-minded history teachers (Joyce Van Patten) and welcoming war widows (Kerry Condon) have an equal place. He gets it, just as he gets the Holocaust's omnipresence in the lives of those affected ... , revealing the tragedy without dwelling on the horror." Regarding the acting, Weissberg wrote that "Penn's flawless performance has none of the mannered intensity that can mar his work, transcending the masklike qualities of eyeliner and lipstick with deadpan, childlike candor."

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