Eccentric road movie with Penn wows at Cannes

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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.

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 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 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. "I got this wonderful script from him and I said yes immediately."

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 and I turned the pages," Penn said.

Penn is also appearing in a second competition entry this year, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" co-starring Brad Pitt.

Sorrentino said he had invented the unusual storyline in order 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. I wanted to have these two people together in the same film and have them confront each other."

© 2011 AFP

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