Tetro (2009) Francis Ford Coppola

Production Budget: $15 million

Worldwide Gross: $2.6 million

In the past I have not held back on my comments about Coppola as a director.  True, every director has an off day, but Coppola seems to have them every other day with movies like The Cotton Club, Jack, and Supernova (to name a few).  Even on movies like Apocalypse Now (or other movies he has been brought on to consult) he seems like an incompetent person.  He seemingly does not know how to control his talent, his creative decisions are questionable to say the least, and his poor production/management skills cause his production budgets to skyrocket out of control.  But the moment you think of bad mouthing him, you remember he made Godfather I and 2, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now and you shut the hell up.  However, I will say since the 70’s he has had more limited success.  Youth Without Youth was a nice attempt to return to his artistic roots, but it was ultimately a failure.  Just when I think I am ready to give up on Coppola, the stupid bastard has to go and make a beautiful film like Tetro.  I’m almost disappointed I had to love it.  Hmm.

17 year old Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) runs away from home to Buenos Aires to find his much older brother Tetro (Vincent Gallo).  Tetro is a poet who essentially exiled himself from the family and especially his overbearing genius conductor father Carlo.  Bennie tries to establish a relationship with Tetro while at the same time, find out what happened in Tetro’s past to make him the way he is.

The movie is in black and white with some color scenes (for flash back a dream sequences).  The look is modeled after certain Italian New Wave films and it is easy to tell the influences.  The cinematography is gorgeous.  This is where I geek out and go into film snob mode but there is a great play of light and shadow in this movie.  At times the movie is dark like a noir while light is almost a character in this movie.  Tetro is almost hypnotized by dancing lights which remind him of a terrible experience and it is here you get some of the most beautiful scenes.  The color scenes too play out like another film which inspired Coppola; the Red Shoes.  There are bright colors and ballet like displays which also make these scenes great.

Of course a movie doesn’t work without a good story and Tetro is a good character study.  Some have noted that it can read as a parallel to Coppola’s life.  While the plot is not biographical, the characters and some of the motivations lend themselves to people in his life.  I’m not sure how much that comes into play (I’ll admit I don’t know much about the man personally) but I do appreciate the story on its own merits.  This story is kind of part coming of age story, part about repairing a family, and part a mystery in finding out what happened to Tetro.  A strong conflict arises between various members of the family and the father Carlo.  He is the center of the universe that everyone must bow to his genius.  When Tetro comes to his father wanting to become a writer, Carlo flatly tells him no because “There is only room in the family for one genius.”  These are not so much willful acts of evil but of a person who is so self centered he can’t see past his own navel.  He is the life of the party and the artist and he cannot conceive of giving to anyone else.  In fact I would say it is more heartbreaking to see Carlo as a man who truly doesn’t care than someone intentionally causing damage.  His willful ignorance is arguably a worse crime and his actions have repercussions on the whole family.  I found myself very interested in the mystery and in the resolution of that.  Now I will say some of the turns are melodramatic (probably to match the movies Coppola is trying to give homage to) and sometimes Tetro is too much of a dick which can cause the audience to turn on the film.  But I was able to stick through it and I found it very interesting.

The acting is also very good.  Ehrenreich is charming as the wide eyed boy trying to beat the older sibling in a battle of wits.  I had never really seen Vincent Gallo act (besides seeing him get his cock sucked by Chloe Sevigny) but I have to say he does a good job.  He is not quite the ‘center of attention’ or ‘life of the party’ the story wants him to be, but overall he does carry this movie well.

Coppola called this the most beautiful movie he ever made and I can see why he thinks that.  It is a personal movie and one of his best artistic efforts.  This is in no way better than his other masterpieces, but I did find myself loving this movie in its own way.  It is a good story which is beautifully told by a veteran director.  Tetro might not be in everyone’s taste in movies, but for many I recommend it as Coppola’s return to form.

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