Paolo Sorrentino talks of his eccentric new film featuring Sean Penn as a washed up rock star in slow pursuit of a Nazi war criminal
Lipstick in hand, faded rock star Cheyenne (Sean Penn) shuffles across America in search of a Nazi war criminal who held his father in a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. Dripping with dry humour, mystery and tears, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s highly original, low octane chase is his first English language film, and one of Sean Penn’s most magnetic roles.
Apparently Robert Smith keeps this look because his wife loves it, so he has that look all day, not only when he goes to a concert
As he wanders like a mumbling troubadour, the plot lurches off on colourful digressions as if to match Cheyenne’s own eccentric thought process. Spectacular and inventive, This Must Be The Place is a ball of cinematic whimsy.
Dazed Digital: Did you work closely with Sean Penn on creating Cheyenne?
Paolo Sorrentino: There was an outline in the script, but Sean Penn is extremely fascinating to observe as he develops mannerisms, for instance his contribution was the slow pace of the delivery, but there was always the idea of having an old Goth sort of faded rock star.
DD: What references did you use for his style?
Paolo Sorrentino: Robert Smith from The Cure. I saw him backstage at a concert in Rome, but I didn’t speak with him. He was not as I expected him. It’s a disconcerting dichotomy to see a guy of fifty years with the look of a sixteen year old, you don’t know what to focus on. Apparently Robert Smith keeps this look because his wife loves it, so he has that look all day, not only when he goes to a concert.
DD: Was Sean Penn’s character the central motivation for the film?
Paolo Sorrentino: No, the initial point for the movie was the hunt for a Nazi criminal. The idea of having this kind of faded rock star, came when I asked who is the most unlikely character to run after a Nazi criminal. Most importantly I wanted to have a very slow chase, to subvert the normal rules that apply in fast paced chases.
DD: Do you consider yourself a reactionary filmmaker?
Paolo Sorrentino: Not on purpose, but so far the stories I’ve wanted to tell have allowed me to do that, I like that sort of rhythm. I like the idea of taking these side trips in plots, it makes them more interesting. Some people didn’t like that, but that’s the nature of what I wanted to write.
DD: Did you and Sean Penn have a similar approach to filmmaking?
Paolo Sorrentino: We both think that if you start something, you have to do it well; you cannot give a final product that is an approximation of what you wanted to do. With something as beautiful as cinema, you have to work at it.
DD: How significant are Talking Heads to the film?
Paolo Sorrentino: Talking Heads are my favourite band and that is my favourite track, but also it’s so befitting to the story of searching for places and going back to places.
'This Must Be The Place' is due to be release in the UK on April 6th 2012.