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Eccentric road movie with Penn wows at Cannes

US actor Sean Penn (AFP, Francois Guillot)

CANNES, France - A risk-taking road movie starring Sean Penn as an
ageing 1980s pop star in search of his father's Nazi tormentor emerged
as a front-runner Friday as the Cannes competition wound down. "This
Must Be The Place", named for the Talking Heads song recently covered
by Arcade Fire, both of which feature in the film, is the latest Cannes
contender by Italian iconoclast Paolo Sorrentino. Bearing a strong
resemblance to The Cure's frontman Robert Smith in a black fright wig
and red lipstick, Penn plays Cheyenne, a washed-up pop singer who
refuses to grow up. His closest friend is a teenage fellow Goth played
by Eve Hewson, the daughter of U2's Bono. Living out his
retirement in luxury in Ireland with his devoted fire-fighter wife
(Frances McDormand), Cheyenne receives news that his estranged father in
New York is ailing. Upon arriving at his home, the son discovers
his father was obsessed with seeking revenge against a guard who
humiliated him while he was a prisoner at Auschwitz. After his
father dies, Cheyenne hits the road in a pick-up truck to assume the
search for the now elderly German man, who is hiding out in Utah, with
the help of a Nazi hunter (Judd Hirsch). The highly eccentric film
met with hesitant applause at first at a packed press preview but
several critics at a subsequent news conference said the film deserved
the festival's coveted Palme d'Or, to be awarded on Sunday. Penn
said he had met Sorrentino when he was the jury president in Cannes in
2008 and the director had a film in competition, "Il Divo", a stylised
portrait of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti which won the
runner-up Jury Prize. The two-time Oscar winner said he was so impressed with the film that he told Sorrentino on the spot he wanted to work with him. "I think it was at the photo at the end and I said 'anytime, anywhere' and the next thing I knew I had the script," he said. He
credited Sorrentino with arriving on set with a fully formed vision of
Cheyenne which meant Penn did not have to work has hard developing what
is one of his most original roles. "He played the piano, I turned the pages," Penn said. "This
is one of the very few film masters -- film masters -- going right now,
and somebody who is going to make original cinema for a long time in a
way that inspires." Asked about the film's treatment of revenge, Penn said it was a recurring theme in American life. "When
you see a sense of vengeance, and the way it's responded to, embraced,
rejected -- recently in the United States, as vengeance was tasked, and
completed in the killing of Osama bin Laden -- and throughout the
culture the various responses to that, the way the people emotionally
get taken away with it," he said. Penn also appears in a second competition entry this year, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" starring Brad Pitt. Asked
whether actress Scarlett Johansson, with whom Penn is reportedly
romantically linked, was inspiring his prolific streak, he demurred. "I
don't know if you saw that movie she made with Bill Murray but the
secret that is whispered in the ear remains a secret," he said with a
grin, referring to "Lost in Translation". Sorrentino said he had
used the unusual storyline to bring together two apparently polar
opposites -- a middle-aged Peter Pan and an elderly Nazi -- and watch
the sparks fly. "That's what really made me curious -- I wanted to
write something about a 50-year-old man who had remained a child, and
who's a rock star," he said. "I wanted to have these two people together in the same film and have them confront each other."

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