22 August 2010 | eneyeseekaywhy
Coppola back on form
17 year-old Bennie works as a waiter on a cruiseship. When the ship suffers engine difficulties and docks in Buenos Aires, he uses the opportunity to attempt to reconnect with his estranged brother Tetro, a once promising writer. He is welcomed with open arms by Tetro's girlfriend, Miranda. She longs to know the truth behind her boyfriends past and what made him the misanthrope he is today. Tetro is hostile towards his brother, his plan was to never see any of his family again, and so keeps him at arms length. Bennie discovers an incomplete play, written in code whilst his brother was undergoing psychiatric treatment. He decides to finish the play and enter it in a festival run by Argentina's most powerful critic, Alone. Faced with this upheaval, Tetro is forced to come to terms with his relationship to his younger brother and his father, a famous conductor.
Tetro is, at its core, a film about family, in particular the relationship between brothers and their Father. A theme Francis Ford Coppola has immersed himself in before, most notably in The Godfather and Rumble Fish. Through a series of flashbacks we are given a glimpse of major events in Tetro's youth, his relationship with his father (played by Klaus Brandauer) and his subsequent departure. There are huge family secrets known only to Tetro and revealed to Bennie in an ending which echoes great literary and operatic works. Coppolas love of opera and theater is stamped all over the script and the city of Buenos Aires seems to be the perfect background in which to set this story.
Shot stunningly in digital monochrome with colour flashbacks, it has some aesthetic similarities to Rumble Fish. Coppola and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. reportedly site On The Waterfront and La Notte as big influences on the films visual style. There are certainly elements of both here, with the film also retaining its visual sense of self. It is operatic in both its narrative and its mise-en-scene. The idea of cutting between colour and monochrome as well as changing aspect ratios sounds as if it would be jarring, and it typically is. But for the purposes of Tetro it works perfectly.
Seen as a controversial choice by some, Vincent Gallo brings an edge to the titular character that some other actors may have lacked. However it is newcomer Alden Ehrenreich who steals the show as Bennie, a wayward teenager looking for guidance and approval. Maribel Verdu, as Miranda, provides the conduit between the two in a typicaly solid performance.
Hollywood is littered with once great directors who have fallen from grace, which makes Tetro all the more remarkable as a return to form from one of the greatest, Francis Ford Coppola.