Francis Ford Coppola’s (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) most recent film Tetro is positively an improvement upon his last independent production Youth Without Youth. Where that film felt indulgent and disappointing, this one has an emotional tide that hits like a hammer to the heart, the central relationship one full of highs and lows so uncompromising and generous trying to assess them all and give them meaning takes more than a single viewing.
With obvious echoes to Vittorio De Sica, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini and Pedro Almodóvar, Coppola has composed a sublime interpersonal familial masterwork that can sometimes feel like a slap to the cheek. Tetro and Bennie’s relationship is never quite anticipated, their ultimate destination one of beautiful yet unnerving simplicity. There is a profound believability to it all that shook me up, the destination so fantastical the journey getting there almost didn’t even matter.
On a technical side the film is luminously shot. The Mihai Malaimare’s sublime use of black and white is magnetic and poetical. While the director mixes in a few color moments here and there (Coppelia doll-like dances on the edge of the fantastical), it is the main narrative that retains the most weight, the cinematographer’s magnificent ability to bring it all to such pure realization a testament to both his skill and the Oscar-winning director’s storytelling abilities.
It helps that actors as Alden Ehrenreich (Bennie) and Maribel Verdú (Miranda) are more than up to the challenge. Ehrenreich is a discovery: he photographs like a young Marlon Brando and under an exceptional direction makes miracles in his role. There are however some over-indulgent moments by Vincent Gallo. And that is not a minor obstacle (is there a less appealing actor than Gallo?). Acting aside and frequently cliché, Gallo often remains peripheral and inexpressive.
The first 20 minutes drag a bit too much and are filled with cliché’s, yes some dialogs may seem a bit flat and insincere, but then the drama picks up, the relationships evolve and the story becomes so baroque, melodramatic and enjoyable.
The film, for all its beauty, can feel a bit like a vanity project, and especially towards the end there were sequences where I almost couldn’t help but wonder what in the world Coppola was thinking. Overall, however, these moments did not bother. You simply don’t care about them, the central storyline revolving around Tetro, Bennie and Miranda is so strong and the emotional investment so high. And the captivating city of Buenos Aires is a fabulous character that breaths a life of its own. Buenos Aires has an old fashion, a seductive kind of elegance nowhere better found than here.
Coppola has chosen to take a completely unorthodox road to depict the most unusual of his Italian family sagas. In the manner of Almodóvar. The result is a baroque, exaggerated, convincing, visually dramatic movie, which I am sure I will want to watch soon again.