Left: Paolo Sorrentino, This Must Be the Place, 2011, still from a color film in 35 mm. Right: Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive, 2011, still from a color film in 35 mm, 100 minutes.


THROUGH PERVERSE, coincidental timing, the Nazi theme at Cannes continued today—fewer than twenty-four hours after Lars von Trier’s banishment from the French Riviera—with the 8:30 AM screening of Paolo Sorrentino’s Competition title This Must Be the Place. The film stars Sean Penn—an amalgam of Dorothy Michaels from Tootsie, the Cure’s Robert Smith, and the titular mentally challenged man the actor played in I Am Sam—as Cheyenne, a fey, retired goth rock star who leaves his home in Ireland to return to the US to track down the man who tormented his estranged father in Auschwitz. Unbearably sentimental—one colleague likened it to this year’s Life Is Beautiful—and consistently ridiculous, Sorrentino’s movie was inexplicably met with warm applause (and, as far as I could tell, no boos). There’s no arguing taste (or cultural differences or festival exhaustion), but figuring out the appeal of a film that includes a Holocaust slide show, Penn’s aggressive scenery chewing (“Not having kids has really, really screwed me over!” he weeps at one point), and every lazy American stereotype (fatties, guns, tattooed hillbillies) will remain forever beyond my ken.

“Performing is a fantastic way of communicating,” Charlotte Rampling says in The Look, an insubstantial hagiographic portrait of the legendary actress by Angelina Maccarone, which played in the Cannes Classics sidebar earlier this week. Penn’s way of reaching out is to overplay an already risible role; Ryan Gosling, in contrast, as the laconic, no-named movie stuntman and part-time heist driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Competition entry Drive, conveys endless appeal through steely silence. Screening for the press last night at the Salle Debussy, Drive provided, if only temporarily, a welcome change of topic from the von Trier fiasco: Gosling’s smoldering foxiness, which hypnotized several colleagues, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, I spoke with afterward (Queer Palm jurors, take note). Gosling’s heat is just one part of the film’s overall seductiveness. An “existentialist road movie,” in the words of my viewing companion, Drive is such a thrilling, taut, visually dazzling exercise in genre filmmaking that even its more gruesome scenes—such as Gosling crushing a man’s skull with his foot—left all of us giddy.

Melissa Anderson