This Must Be the Place is the English-language debut of Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, which was screened at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. It did not win the Palme d’Or because the jury found the film strange and “unconvincing”, but it was awarded the “Prix of the Ecumenical Jury” (an independent award). Why did the jury find the work specific, why didn’t they give it the Palme d’Or? The answer lies in the content, which we will now consider.
This article contains important plot spoilers.
What is the movie about
The plot is simple but interesting. It tells about former rock musician Cheyenne, who is mired in depression and guilt because of the fact that two teenagers committed suicide because of his song. Cheyenne is infantile, stuck in the past and now can’t move on. Twenty years after the end of his career, he lives with his wife in Dublin in his own mansion, earns bets on the stock exchange, and his girlfriend is a teenage goth Mary.
Habitual life is broken by a cousin’s call, announcing the impending death of his father, with whom the protagonist has not communicated for 30 years. Cheyenne is going and comes to him, but too late: his father has already died. After reading his diary, the hero learns about his parent’s youth in a concentration camp and that he has dreamed all his life of finding his tormentor, Alois Lang, a German soldier who mocked him. Cheyenne decides to continue her father’s work and begins searching for the German.
In the end, after finding him and seeing what a decrepit old man he has become, the hero decides not to kill him, as he planned, but simply to force him to go out naked into the cold. Cheyenne leaves and returns to her hometown with her hair cut, no make-up and in ordinary clothes.
Meaning of “This Must Be the Place”
The director in his film tells the story of growing up, and it is the idea that every person should be able to go through and overcome difficult stages of life is the main one. Smaller ideas are already mixed into it (about weakness, and about who can be considered weak and who is not, for example).
The starting point of the protagonist is absolute infantilism. He is not interested in anything, he does not care about the future, he tries in vain to forget the past. The director also emphasizes the uncertainty of Cheyenne’s age with two points.
The first is a conversation with Mary’s mother. The hero shares that he had a lot of addictions, but never from cigarettes, to which the woman answers him: “You didn’t start smoking because you are still a child. Children do not feel the need to smoke.”
In the second moment, Cheyenne is asked how old he is. He says: “As much as you can see under this powder and lipstick.” The phrase can be interpreted literally (he is about fifty, apparently), or you can find a subtext in which the director seems to hint: “He is still fifteen.”
In order to show the growing up of an already elderly hero, Paolo Sorrentino decides to choose a genre such as road movies. However, of course, not in a completely classical sense, because usually in a road movie, the heroes know the destination, while the Cheyenne’s goal to take revenge on the German is, in fact, vague. In the depths of his soul, he wants to know the life of his father, to understand what he believed in and what he hoped for.
The parallel between father and son is also interesting. Both are stuck in their youth. The father, having survived the Holocaust, cannot let go of what happened to him. His only goal, one desire was to take revenge on the German. Because of this, he could not raise his children well, could not build good relationships with them.
Cheyenne can’t handle the trauma. He can’t shake his guilt that two teenagers died because of his song. Cheyenne is also in perpetual rebellion against her father: at the age of fifteen, he applied makeup for the first time, to which the parent reacted, apparently, very negatively. Because of that situation, the hero is still sure that his father does not love him.
The journey becomes a way for the hero to understand himself. He meets various people who tell him their stories, and through them, Cheyenne gradually accepts the past. The last point is the meeting with Alois Lang. He finds out what happened in that concentration camp, and finally lets go of the past.
Also important, but smaller, is the idea that you need to be able to let go of people and events, because only in this way can you start moving on. The hero’s father did not develop, as he could not let go of the events of the past, but Cheyenne was able to overcome the suffocating memories and begin the next stage of life.
The same meaning is also dominant in the small line of mother Mary, whose son left and never returned. She always sits by the window, her phone on her knees, waiting for the call to tell her what happened to her child. However, at the end, when Cheyenne comes to her window, the way she smiles, one can understand that the heroine is also ready to let go and accept the fact that she will most likely never see her son again.
In the last scene, Cheyenne comes to the window of Mary’s mother, who once told him that he was still a child. Now the hero has a haircut, he is without makeup, does not wear only black and, most importantly, can now smile, while before his face almost did not express emotions. The scene symbolizes a new beginning for Cheyenne, his new path, in which he will already be struggling with the accumulated mental problems.
The movie is actually quite long. It has too long, boring scenes, sometimes they are very disjointed. However, as for me, it is in this picture that this fact is a plus, because this way the unstable inner world of the hero is revealed even better.