Movies: Tetro **
Published 02/07/2010 | 05:00
Francis Ford Coppola is making films again, and no one knows quite what to do about it.
a pretty fine mess
At 71, and having been responsible for some of the most memorable moments in post-war American cinema, the great man has absolutely nothing to prove.
And since returning to the director's chair a few years back, he has felt free to indulge the auteurish leanings of his distant youth.
In 2007, he gave us Youth Without Youth, an obtuse and Kafkaesque work about a middle-European man who starts getting younger after being struck by lightning, and now we have Tetro, which is, if anything, even more esoteric.
Written by Coppola and filmed in glorious high-contrast digital black and white, Tetro begins with the arrival in Buenos Aires of Bennie Tetrocini (Alden Ehrenreich), an 18-year-old American who's worked his passage on a cruise liner and has come in search of his elusive older brother.
Tetro (Vincent Gallo) ran away from their brilliant but oppressive father Carlo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) many years before, and has abandoned all family ties in favour of a bohemian existence as a writer.
When Bennie arrives, he is warmly received by Tetro's girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu), but not by his brother, who seems perturbed and keeps asking how long he will stay.
Bennie is hurt by his brother's apparent hostility, as he has always looked up to him and even dreams of following in his writing footsteps.
And when Tetro refuses to open up to him, Bennie begins secretly reading his brother's scrambled and incoherent manuscripts in an attempt to find out what has left him in such an emotionally fragile state.
The mood here is most definitely operatic: the boys' father is a great conductor, and the film's story contains about as much tragedy and shocking revelation as your average Italian libretto.
Coppola seems to be addressing the issue of art versus family, but all of this is subsidiary to his carefully worked out visual aesthetic. In fact, on a purely visual level, Tetro contains some of his best work in years. Dramatically, however, it's all over the place.
Despite strong performances from young Ehrenreich and a haggard-looking Gallo, theirs and all the other characters are unconvincing cyphers whose compounding tragedies grow harder and harder to take seriously.
But from its crisp close-ups and sweeping views of Buenos Aires to its occasional flashes of high colour, Coppola's film is glorious to look at, and all in all a kind of magnificent, fascinating mess.