reviewed by Marc Glassman
Francis Ford Coppola, director, producer and scriptwriter. Walter Murch, editor. Starring: Vincent Gallo (Tetro), Alden Ehrenreich (Bennie), Maribel Verdu (Miranda), Carmen Maura (Alone), Klaus Maria Brandauer (Carlo Tetrocini)
Francis Ford Coppola’s final chapter in his illustrious career is now in full swing with Tetro following up on last year’s Youth Without Youth. The great American auteur, who gave up on commercial cinema in the mid ‘90s, is now making low-budget personal films, far from Hollywood. The maestro’s new film is set in the Italian section of Buenos Aires, a beautiful, if run-down, area of the world, where cinema, opera and theatre are still worshipped amid a demi-monde of characters who could have stepped out of La Boheme.
Among these lovely doomed individuals is the mysterious Tetro (Vincent Gallo), an American writer who refuses to finish any of his dramas or novels. Loved and protected by Miranda (Maribel Verdu), a social worker/psychologist, he is allowed to pursue his demons, making money lighting local theatrical performances. All’s fine until Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), Tetro’s young and handsome half-brother arrives in Buenos Aires, fresh from working on a boat.
Impossibly romantic? Yep, the 70-something Coppola has been drinking his wine—or better—for decades and is entranced by the narrative conventions of opera, theatre and romantic novels of the 19th century. Example? Bennie breaks Tetro’s code for his “incomprehensible” hand-written scrawls: they’re composed “backwards” while gazing at a mirror.
Of course, Tetro is trapped in the mirror images of his past. He has run away from his oppressive father, a world-renowned orchestra conductor, and the demands of a highly cultured family. The last thing he wants is success but that’s exactly what Bennie, who adores his older brother, wants to give him.
In a denouement that would have inspired Verdi or Puccini, Bennie completes one of Tetro’s plays and arranges for it to be premiered at a renowned arts festival in Pantagonia. Sponsored by a critic named Alone (hey—I’m not making this up!), the festival is set in the gorgeous icy wasteland of the southernmost province of Argentina. (It’s as if Conrad Black had set up a world-class festival in the Yukon a decade ago.)
What will Tetro do to stop the performance? What are the deep dark secrets that haunt the Tetrocini family? Will love prevail? Or the siren call of Death?
Surely you don’t expect an answer from me! But I will say this: Tetro is a crazy ride, immensely aided by the presence of a potential star in Alden Ehrenreich, and held back by the charmless-–though gifted—Vincent Gallo in the lead. You probably won’t like the film, which is a mess as a narrative, but you’ll love Buenos Aires and Pantagonia. On DVD—my guess? October—Tetro will find its crowd.
And Mr. Coppola? Sir? MMMaestro? Could you please hire a scriptwriter next time?