TETRO (director/writer: Francis Ford Coppola; cinematographer: Mihai Malaimare Jr.; editor: Walter Murch; music: Osvaldo Golijov; cast: Vincent Gallo (Tetro), Alden Ehrenreich (Bennie), Maribel Verdú (Miranda), Klaus Maria Brandauer (Carlo Tetrocini), Carmen Maura (Alone), Rodrigo de la Serna (José), Leticia Brédice (Josefina), Mike Amigorena (Aberlardo), Erica Rivas (Ana); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Francis Ford Coppola; American Zoetrope; 2009-Italy/Spain/Argentina-English, Soanish & French with English subtitles)
“Mostly dull stuff but has its moments when it sparkles, as it muses over the Oedipal Complex like a madman throwing his clothes out the window.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Francis Ford Coppola’s (“The Cotton Club”/”The Rainmaker”/”Youth Without Youth”) overwrought melodrama about a family’s dark secret is mostly dull stuff but has its moments when it sparkles, as it muses over the Oedipal Complex like a madman throwing his clothes out the window. It’s shot in black and white like an Elia Kazan film of the 1950s, such as “On the Waterfront,” but at one point throws in a Technicolor homage to Powell-Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann.
Middle-aged self-exiled American writer Tetro (Vincent Gallo) is a cranky bohemian shacked up in a dreamy looking slum port section of Buenos Aires with a nurturing mental hospital nurse Miranda (Maribel Verdú), when he’s paid a surprise and unwanted visit by his estranged 18-year-old virgin brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich). The kid is also running away from his famous NYC philharmonic musical conductor/composer and domineering father Carlo Tetrocini (Klaus Maria Brandauer), as he quit military prep school to work as a waiter on a luxury cruise liner. Carlo is so monstrous that he discourages Bennie from being a writer by telling him “there is only room for one genius in this family.” The famous maestro will also browbeat his lesser younger brother (also played by Brandauer), a conductor who is seen only as his rival.
Tetro has renounced his family, but the visit of Bennie brings back bad memories of his selfish dad that he has never gotten over. We soon learn that Tetro is a confused man and a would-be literary genius, who refuses to complete the stories he’s writing and instead prefers hanging around his friend Jose’s cafe and working the lights when the cafe has a show. The common-in-law wife tells the kid, hubby is “like a genius but without a lot of accomplishments.”
The story is sometimes leaden–as it tells of both brothers with broken legs through traffic accidents, a transvestite version of “Faust” at Jose’s cafe, and an influential South American critic named Alone (Carmen Maura) being told off by Tetro that she’s not as important as she thinks. But there are also tense artistic moments in this personal film that give one hope that the 70-year-old Coppola still has it as a first-class director, after a series of clunkers, who is willing to take chances and shoot for artistic integrity over commercial appeal as he restarts his career. The viewer somehow has to overcome all the hysterics and of it being a gloomy old-fashioned film that could have been made in the 1960s. Incidentally, Tetro translates to gloomy in Italian.
REVIEWED ON 9/29/2009 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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