Cheyenne (Sean Penn) is a musician who doesn’t practice. His passivity is neither a consequence of a lack of talent nor a result of a self-doubt. His suspension seems to go hand by hand with a monstrous grief. The entire movie is a story of working through sadness. Paolo Sorrentino proposes a narrative that is as much metaphorical as literal – in ‘This Must Be a Place’ the pain of being becomes sensual, even embodied.
The protagonist’s existence seems to be a ritual that is not a synonym of a promise of rebirth, but a sad necessity that is neither promising nor exciting. What’s interesting, Cheyenne is not a typical example of a depressed character. He is more eccentric and his soul is more – let’s say – strange and poetic at the same time. Every morning he puts make-up on his wife – as if he misunderstood the metaphor of life a stage and took it too literally. But this morning ritual is not a symptom of weirdness, but a kind of a relic of the past. Let’s remind – he is the musician, who hasn’t been on the stage for 20 years.
The director gradually reveals reasons for the Cheyenne’s strangeness. In the beginning we are falling in love with an eccentric weirdo who has very limited activities – matchmaking his younger friend is probably his favourite things. ‘This Must Be a Place’ is a very slow movie – the narration seems to be sprouting, not really happening. It can be annoying, but on the hand – it has its charm. Each part of the movie seems to be a part of Cheyenne. The director turns out to be a great composer who knows how to make all elements of the narration play in the rhythm of the protagonist’s heart. What’s important, Sorrentino doesn’t use too many tricks – his movie is not contrived. It just looks like he got to now his main character so well that he was able to take a picture of the sky that would be a reflection of Cheyenne’s soul.
Cheyenne is also a figure of a penitent. His withdrawn existence turns out to be a form of a self-flagellation. What’s interesting for the plot – from the objective perspective, the protagonist shouldn’t be considered as a guilty. We are facing here the problem of non-culpable death that becomes a permanent part of the life. In ‘This Must Be a Place’ a problem of a nature of remorse is probably the main sore place. The pain shouldn’t be understood as a synonym of a weak point. Sorrentino composes his movie of pains and he makes it painful. We should find a place for more pain.