Paolo Sorrentino • Director
by Domenico La Porta
14/05/2011 - Following the screening of This Must Be The Place [trailer, film focus] in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Cineuropa met with Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, who was very much in demand by the international press.
Cineuropa: Could This Must Be The Place have existed without the Cannes Film Festival?
Paolo Sorrentino: I was discovered here. I met Sean Penn in 2008 when he saw Il Divo [trailer, film focus] during the festival and he told me he’d like to work with me. From that very moment, I started to write for him and I had nobody else in mind for the role of Cheyenne. I’m glad he agreed to play this character because if he had refused, there would have been no film. I didn’t want to tell this story without him so yes, the film has its roots in the Cannes Film Festival.
Was the character of Cheyenne very scripted?
I saw Cheyenne a certain way and Sean Penn spent a long time reading and listening to all my recommendations, but when he started to bring the character to life, I witnessed something incredible happening and I set about listening to his adjustments. In the end, Cheyenne was shaped by my initial vision of the character, but most of all by the experience of Sean Penn who developed it by making it entirely his own.
Why did you choose Ireland and the US as shooting locations?
I couldn’t imagine this story starting in Italy. Italian culture simply didn’t experience the tidal wave of New Wave which had a big impact on 1980s rock. Also, the place of fascism in Italian political history made the film’s theme more difficult to explain. I didn’t want to have to fight to justify the story’s plausibility because the audience already has to get used to the character of Cheyenne, who seems to come from another planet.
Secondly, the United States was a natural choice stemming from a desire I shared with my friend Umberto Contarello, who co-wrote the script. For a long time I’d been dreaming of the opportunity to film the magnificent landscapes I’d seen in the movies. With a heavyweight actor like Sean Penn in the cast, this became possible and we took this into account when writing the film. It was a personal pleasure, but the United States is such a symbol of exodus that the locations alone tell part of the story. It isn’t vanity on my part.
It’s a method you used previously in Il Divo, but in This Must Be The Place, there are many shots filmed using a Louma or more generally using a crane. Why did you make this choice?
The film is a journey, but I also thought it was important to journey within the spaces available to us. Secondly, I like this idea of sweeping movements around a character who can himself move around very slowly as is the case with Cheyenne in the film. Depending on where the gaze rests and the path it takes, the perception of the subject changes and evolves. The film also talks about this change of perspective. The outside view of the characters changes, but they also end up seeing themselves differently.
The music is almost a character in the film. Why did you use it as a nostalgic symbol?
It’s not nostalgia, even if it’s true that I wanted to talk a bit about the evolution of rock music. The film contains many interwoven themes. One of them is the fear of growing up. Taking a strong but outdated rock music trend and sticking to it enabled me to create a contrast between the changes in the world around Cheyenne and this frozen-in-time aspect which is expressed through his attire, his devotion to a musical genre and his refusal to use a mobile phone, etc. Rock was Cheyenne’s big era, but it’s also this rock attitude which has caused him to have a mental block and sink into depression.
David Byrne didn’t just compose the film’s score, he plays an important role...
When you’re lucky enough to be able to work with David Byrne who is an all-round artist, it would be a shame not to involve him as much as possible. The film’s title (editor’s note: This Must Be The Place is the title of a Talking Heads song), the explanation for Cheyenne’s tragedy and the film’s sonorous atmosphere are directly connected to David, who also plays himself in the film. His crazy creations have really inspired my films and there’s a lot in common between his stage design and the production of This Must Be The Place which is also a way of paying homage to him.