PAOLO Sorrentino’s film — a French-Italian-Irish co-production — is called This Must Be the Place (Monday, 10pm, M Premiere). And yes, this must be Sean Penn, though you’d never know. He plays Cheyenne, an American rock star living in retirement in Dublin, and dominating every scene is the haunting image of Penn’s face behind layers of hideous make-up: chalk-white features, dark eyeliner, prominent shades and masses of unruly hair.
Cheyenne’s life is changed when he learns that his dying father, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, was singled out for special humiliation at Auschwitz by a particular SS guard, who may still be alive and living in the US. Cheyenne sets out on a cross-country odyssey in search of his father’s tormentor. The final scenes are in the nature of fantasy, a parable of redemption, unforgettable for Penn’s extraordinary performance. All seriously weird, and strangely beautiful.
Why is it that the best films are often the most miserable? Here are two heartrending stories, both starring Emily Watson. Angela’s Ashes (Sunday, 9.35am, M Drama/Romance), based on Frank McCourt’s autobiographical novel, is about an impoverished Irish family whom we first encounter in a room full of bawling, hungry children in a Brooklyn tenement. Angela (Watson) is giving birth to a daughter; within a few days the baby is dead and the father (Robert Carlyle) is on another of his drinking bouts. Back in Ireland, things are no better. You have to be pretty hungry to lick the grease from someone’s discarded fish wrapper.
In Jim Loach’s Oranges and Sunshine (Saturday, 10.10am, M Masterpiece), Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, the British social worker who did much to expose the forced deportation to Australia of thousands of British children in care. Children were separated from their families; brothers and sisters parted on arrival. Much of the film is told through the memories of two victims, played as adults by Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. But it’s Watson’s luminous performance that carries the film. Her presence is a reminder that many deported children were escaping the same crushing poverty the McCourt family endured.
This week’s other sad and beautiful film is The Deep Blue Sea (Tuesday, noon, M Premiere), Terence Davies’s adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play about sexual vulnerability and the perils of thoughtless passion. Hester (Rachel Weisz) is the dissatisfied wife of a British judge, whose eminently respectable (and childless) marriage is shattered when she meets Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), a former RAF pilot, and they begin a passionate affair — though it’s clear Hester’s passions run deeper than Freddie’s. Weisz gives a searching study of folly and infatuation, beautifully nuanced and infinitely touching.
(M) ★★★★✩ Monday, 10pm, M Premiere
(M) ★★★ Saturday, 10.10am, M Masterpiece
(M) ★★★★ Tuesday, noon, M Premiere
Rachel Weisz in