Bennie travels to Buenos Aires to find his long-missing older brother, a once-promising writer who is now a remnant of his former self. Bennie's discovery of his brother's near-finished play might hold the answer to understanding their shared past and renewing their bond.
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Francis Ford Coppola
James Earl Jones
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The week of his 18th birthday, Bennie, who's a waiter on a cruise ship, has a layover in Buenos Aires. He seeks out his older brother, Tetro, whom he hasn't seen in years. Tetro, who lives with Miranda, is a burned-out case; he's hot and cold toward his brother, introducing him as a "friend," refusing to talk about their family, telling Bennie not to tell Miranda who their father is. Thoughts of their father cast a shadow over both brothers. Who is he, and what past has Tetro left behind? Bennie finds pages of Tetro's unfinished novel, and he pushes both to know his own history and to become a part of his brother's life again. What can come of Bennie's pushing? Written by
The flashback scenes were originally to be shot using 16mm film to truly emphasize past events, but since this type of film/camera was almost out of date the whole film was shot with a digital camera and the flashbacks had to be digitally treated. See more »
Early in the movie Tetro stumbles into the kitchen with a broken leg and knocks over some furniture while lighting a cigarette using a burner on the stove. he ignites the burner by just turning the knob on the stove. A few minutes later Miranda must use a match to light a burner on the same stove-top. See more »
There's room for only one genius in this family...
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cinema that throbs and kicks and is passionate - one of Coppola's triumphs
Tetro may be the "best" film Francis Ford Coppola has made in twenty-five years. Whether this speaks more to the quality of his present state of direction as an artist or on the relative hits and misses of his career in the dregs of Hollywood (be it aiming high and just missing the mark with Godfather 3 and Dracula to stuff that went over people's heads like Youth Without Youth to even crap like Jack) is a combination. He's someone who attained financial success at a time, but then lost nearly all of it and along with it, arguably, some of his artistic merit. But after years of laying low and making wine, and making a whacked-out experiment that people either dug as an abstract piece or hated to hell ('Youth'), he comes out with Tetro like a porn star with a five-foot erection. He's got something to prove, if not to his audience then himself, and he proves it with a story that is personal and a film-making technique that recalls other masters but never too directly.
Tetro is about family, a subject Coppola is, of course, well-versed in being it the notorious kind (of course, the Godfather) and the more low-level and oddly intimate (Rumble Fish). It's a story, as with Rumble Fish, told in crisp black and white widescreen with flashes of color for flashbacks which may or may not be real, and as homage to operas like The Tales of Hoffmann. The title character, wonderfully and intensely portrayed by Vincent Gallo, is in a creative exile in Buenos Aires, a once promising writer living with his doctor-wife (Maribel Verdu, great as always) who is paid a visit one day by a young man, his brother Bennie (baby-faced newcomer Alden Ehrenreich) who hasn't seen him in years. There's secrets withheld by Tetro, not least of which about their parents, and soon an unfinished, longhand written play by Tetro (real name Angelo) is discovered by Bennie in a suitcase. He'll finish his brother's play, but at what cost?
The damaged, almost bi-polar writer, the insistent and impressionable brother, the strong but uncertain woman, these characters are fully realized by Coppola, and then on top of this comes a sort of terrific puzzle that is constructed through Tetro's unfinished play: what about their father, a famous composer (Klaus Maria Brandeur) who split them apart, possibly, or possibly not? What about their mother, who died in a car accident? What about the bond between Tetro and his former mentor, "Alone", the dubbed "most important critic in South America" who has created a pretentious empire around herself? Questions arise, and Coppola rises to the challenge of giving the audience answers but not spoon-fed. It's first and foremost a story of family, of brothers who love but have to find ways to contend with their damaged selves(inspiration being Rocco and His Brothers mayhap), and it's here that it's just about classic, on par with Rumble Fish if not even deeper and wiser about the effect of parents, or lack thereof, in lives spent and possibly wasted.
The writing is immensely interesting, always, even when Coppola may fall into over-indulging in his fantastic self-indulgence as an artist, such as with the operatic flourishes towards the end (this may not make sense, but compared to the WAY over indulgence of the hard-to-defend Y.W.Y it will). If anything the little imperfections, those brush strokes that go so high with the colors and shadows and impressionistic lighting that he and DP Mihai Malaimaire Jr engage in (one who hopefully will be getting more work following such spectacular work on a mix of 35mm and HD) along with Walter Murch's dependable editing, make it an even stronger work. It should feel a little messy here and there, because its subject matter is about finding a sense of purpose, in each other and in one's art. One feels Coppola working through a history of close but torn family ties, of losing loved ones (i.e. his own son), and at the same time a love of them all and of cinema peeking through in nearly every scene, even the ones where it doesn't look like much is going on.
Tetro is the antidote, basically, for this month's Transformers sequel. If you need to find the polar opposite of a picture based practically on just making money and reeling in the crowds with its dumb giant robot battles and preposterous and shallow theatrics, look no further than a picture which cares about its characters, its multi-faceted story and themes, and about projecting a technique that hearkens back to cinema of the 50s and 60s while sticking to an originality by its filmmaker. This will likely stay with me for a while, which is what Coppola's most profound works have done.
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