A quick onstage chat at the closing night of the Cannes Film Festival launched Sean Penn and director Paolo Sorrentino on a trek that brought them back to the world’s most prestigious showcase.
Penn and Sorrentino’s first collaboration, the comic drama “This Must Be the Place,” premiered Friday at Cannes, where three years earlier the actor headed the awards jury that gave the director’s Italian political saga “Il Divo” the festival’s third-place jury prize.
Sorrentino and Penn recalled meeting onstage after awards were handed out. Penn had been impressed enough with Sorrentino’s work that he made an open-ended pledge about working together.
“I think it was a photo at the end, where everyone gets on stage for the group photo, and I said something to him like, ‘Anytime, anywhere,’ and next I knew, he had this script,” Penn said at a press conference. “He went ahead and wrote the script, and then about a year later, he called me up.”
“This Must Be the Place” casts two-time Academy Award winner Penn as a childlike ex-rock star who leaves behind his life of seclusion in Ireland for a trek across America in pursuit of his late father’s Nazi tormentor from the Holocaust.
With long locks of hair and heavy makeup, including lipstick, Penn bears some resemblance to rocker Ozzy Osbourne, but the actor said he had not been patterning his character at all on the heavy metal icon.
Penn’s character ponders if he’s suffering from depression, and his journey to fulfill his father’s quest plays out as a road trip in which he rediscovers America and a sense of his rocker’s spirit.
“Rock ‘n’ roll is a place that is very important, because it counters what I think has become kind of the disease of a polite society,” Penn said. “So that this movie taking on the matters of one’s own purpose and soul and history and compromises, and in some kind of pursuit to break through a depression, that’s what rock ‘n’ roll always has been.”
The film co-stars Frances McDormand, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Judd Hirsch and Eve Hewson, daughter of U2 singer Bono. Talking Heads leader David Byrne provides music and plays himself in the film for a performance of the title song.
Sorrentino has become a Cannes regular, “This Must Be the Place” marking his fourth film in the festival’s main competition since 2004.
“It’s no coincidence that Paolo’s movies are systematically finding themselves embraced by a festival where the bar is so high and multicultural. It’s where I first found out about his magic hand,” Penn said, turning to address Sorrentino beside him at the press conference. “So I hope for you that they have the discernment to once again celebrate your work.”
“This Must Be the Place” is one of 20 films competing for Cannes main prize, the Palme d’Or, which will be handed out Sunday night.