IAR Cannes Wrap Up: Sean Penn, Elmo, and 'This Must Be The Place' on Day 10

Friday, 20 May 2011 18:59 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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IAR Cannes Wrap Up: Sean Penn, Elmo, and 'This Must Be The Place' on Day 10

Hey guess what?  We have a Cannes update that will not involve Lars von Trier beyond that merest mention.  Yesterday, the international brouhaha over a bad joke continued, while director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling wowed attendees with Drive.  Today, by contrast, was considerably more low key.  This Must Be the Place, which stars Sean Penn as a goth rocker looking for revenge, had its big premiere.  The Sesame Street-centric documentary Being Elmo made multiple deals, and the Belgian film The Giants won two big prizes before it has even premiered.

The red carpet for This Must be the Place was packed with celebrities and assorted famous people, as you'd expect from the day's biggest screening.  Claudia Schiffer, Eve Hewson, Gwen Stefani, and Courtney Love all did plenty of posing for cameras while wearing expensive dresses.  At the photocall for the film, though, Sean Penn looked distinctly dissatisfied and notably under dressed in an outfit that can be summed up in one lovely word: denim.

This Must Be the Place is the first English language film from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino.  Penn plays Cheyenne, a reclusive former rockstar who has been retired for decades, living with his wife, portrayed by Frances McDormand.  Looking very much like The Cure's Robert Smith, Cheyenne leaves his hidey hole when he discovers that his elderly father, a Holocaust survivor, is dying.  This sets him on a road trip to find the former Nazi who tortured his progenitor at Auschwitz.

That may sound like a fairly straightforward revenge story, but early reviews from today's screening suggest that the film is far from conventional, even to its own detriment.  While Sorrentino's visual approach has been praised for its nimble, restless camerawork, many complaints have focused on an emotional artificiality that pervades the entire film.  This artifice is said to include Penn's performance, which apparently includes insightful, moving moments, but is frequently self-conscious and unnecessarily eccentric. 

Still, the idea of Penn in a fright wig, lipstick, and mascara is intriguing, and from the sound of it, This Must Be the Place could just be one of those pictures that inspire love or bafflement, with little in between.  That's pure conjecture, though.

The documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, on the other hand, has been touring festivals for months, and has received nearly-unanimous raves.  The film, directed by Constance Marks, follows the life of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who provides the movements and voice for Elmo, arguably the most popular character on Sesame Street.  Simultaneously, the story of Jim Henson is told, tying in with Clash's rise to become a huge creative force on the beloved PBS series.

Being Elmo earned raves at the Sundance Film Festival, and will receive a theatrical release at an unspecified point later this year in order to qualify for the 2012 Academy Awards.  At Cannes today, Submarine Entertainment  sealed deals for Elmo's  DVD, digital distribution, and television.  New Video's Docurama Films acquired the DVD and digital rights for the film.  ITVS and Independent Lens, meanwhile, purchased the television rights, meaning Being Elmo will air, appropriately enough, on PBS.

At the Director’s Fortnight sidebar competition today, The Giants (Les Geants) won not one, but two big awards.  Co-written and directed by Bouli Lanners, the film took home the Society of of Auteurs and Dramatic Composers prize for best French language picture, as well as the Art Cinema Award.  The Belgian film has its official Cannes Premiere tomorrow.

The Giants does not yet have an American distributor.  Filled with rapturous imagery and focused on the interior lives of its characters rather than narrative, it's a coming-of-age story revolving around three teenagers engaging with the natural world.

So that's the big news on a comparatively laid back day at the biggest film festival on Earth.  After ten days, the crowds are preparing to abandon the Cote d'Azur, as the festival closes out this Sunday.  In the meantime, we'll be here with updates.

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