© 2018 by J. Eric Thompson

Tetro (R)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Cast: Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdú

If you’re looking for Coppola to make a blockbuster or masterpiece in the vein of The Godfather or Apocolypse Now, you should probably give up, although stranger things have happened.  However, if you’re satisfied watching meaningful and mesmerizing films every bit as intriguing as twice as beautiful as The Conversation, you, my friend, are in luck.  And who knows; should Coppoloa stay on the path he’s beginning with Youth Without Youth and Tetro, he might pop out another Oscar winner before he gets whacked.  Or beheaded, should you prefer an Apocolypse Now reference.

Bennie Tetrocini is a young man who’s soon turning eighteen, and is searching for his brother Angelo.  Angelo left the family over a decade ago, and gave Bennie a letter promising his eventual return for his younger brother.  Angelo has become an eccentric and temperamental novelist turned lighting director for a kooky production of Fausta(both a Roman Empress who had a hand in her father’s downfall, and an opera that was never finished by its writer; each somewhat symbolic to the story), and goes by the name Tetro.  His (and any local artist’s) creative endeavors are always under the ever-looming and scrutinizing eye of the most notorious and respected critic in all of Buenos Aires, a woman who simply goes by the name “Alone”.

Bennie discovers that his older brother had been writing a book (backwards and in code, no less) about the story of his father, Carlos Tetrocini, a famous conductor.  It remained unfinished and Tetro claimed, as with all of his stories, that none of them need an ending.  All Bennie wants to do is ask questions about his family and, because of an incident that Tetro was involved in years ago, all Tetro wants to do is avoid those questions.  “You know what love is in our family?” Tetro asks.  “A quick stab in the heart.”  Eventually the brothers’ pasts crash into each other, and mysterious family secrets are brought to light, or in this case, color.

The subject matter began to feel to me like something from Wes Anderson, minus the intellectual humor and endearing quirkiness, but this comes off much heavier and very somber, probably due to the foreign/noir feeling of the photography.  The lighting was especially brilliant (a nod to Tetro being a lighting guy himself, I would imagine), and memories and dreams pepper the black and white film with bursts of vivid color.  The use of mirrors is prevalent throughout (I mentioned his novel was written backwards), and the theme of a moth unable to help his attraction to a bright, sparkling light is explored beautifully as well, both in the cinematography and between the lines of the script.

The performances were all good enough; Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) comes off as a little too baby-faced and whiny at parts, and Tetro (Vincent Gallo) makes me think of what would happen should Joaquin Phoenix and Dennis Leary ever produced a love-child.  Also, it wasn’t as Italian as I had assumed it would be (I don’t mean Godfather-esque, I mean the language).  After divorcing himself from his family, Tetro moves to Buenos Aires, where they speak a very Italian-inflected dialect of Spanish.

Tetro is beautiful if it’s anything; we get the impression that Coppola is allowing the stories that intrigue him to tell themselves, with only a gentle hint of his assistance on the way.  The consequences of that are the creation of small, sincere films without the necessary pomp and circumstance that so many movies come packaged with today.  We need to simply trust his artistic sensibilities (I think he’s earned it), and allow him to enlighten us with the stories he finds enlightening to himself.  He doesn’t need to wow or dazzle us anymore, he simply wants us to let him talk; and at this point we should let him.  Like Tetro assures Bennie, “It’s gonna be okay.  We’re family.”