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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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
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 »
Why'd you find me?
Everything I've loved or been interested in has been because of you. You disappeared, without even an explanation...
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One thing that's clear from 'Tetro', Francis Coppola's beautiful, disturbing, very personal new film (a great improvement over his 'Youth Without Youth' of two years ago) is that whether its themes are autobiographical or not, they show a man who still has strong feelings about family and a wealth of artistic ideas about how to act them out. Family seems a poisonous and irresistible thing. When Vincent Gallo tells Alden Ehrenreich at the end of the film, "We're family," it sounds as haunting as "Forget It, Jake - It's Chinatown" at the end of Roman Polanski's movie. Family, like Chinatown, is a place of mysterious trouble, of rivalries that come back to haunt you, of resentments and terrible deceptions.
There's a lot of pain about failed ambitions too. Tetro (a mean, brooding Vincent Gallo;"tetro" means 'sad' or 'dark' in Italian), a would-be writer, is hiding away in Buenos Aires, the birthplace of his father, when his younger brother Bennie (excellent newcomer Alden Ehrenreich) appears one night in the pristine white uniform of a cruise ship employee. The action thenceforth is an off-and-on wooing of Tetro by Bennie. Bennie wants to recover his childhood when he worshiped Angelo, as he was then. "Angelo's dead," Tetro repeats. Bennie has felt abandoned for a decade. He is almost eighteen, and ran away from military school and lied about his age to get the job on the ship. Now Tetro does not welcome Bennie at all and keeps saying he ought to stay with someone else or return to the boat, which is docked for repairs.
The 'Godfather' films are full of brother and father rivalries too, but because this film is about waywardness and is in coldly beautiful digital black and white with moments of intense color, it more strongly recalls Coppola's similarly color-highlighted black and white version of S.E. Hinton's 'Rumblefish,' where Mickey Rourke played the dangerous, disreputable but romantic older brother and Matt Dillon the younger one who has missed him.
This certainly isn't Tusa, though. It's Argentina, but also an alternately windswept and mountainous Patagonia, and a world of pure cinematic imagination highlighted by trips into intense Fifties Technicolor with The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman and Copola's own strange evocations of that lushly artificial style. Flashbacks in less intense color recall the father -- perhaps one should write "the Father" -- Carlo Tetrocini (Klaus Maria Brandauer), born in Buenos Aires of Italian family, a composer and orchestra leader hailed as a genius. Carlo has stifled the ambitions of another musical composer brother (played by Brandauer in heavy makeup) and seems to have driven Tetro (Gallo) mad. Tetro lives a bipolar, cosmopolitan life with a warm and sexy Spanish lady called Miranda (Maribel Verdú: we know her from 'Y tu mamá también' and 'Pan's Labyrinth') who discovered him when he was in an asylum and she was a visiting entertainer. Tetro has all but abandoned his magnum opus, a play he can't finish, and works in a theater where he does the lighting.
One can hardly attribute the resentment of the father to Coppola himself; his own father was a minor musician best known for composing music for Coppola's films. Perhaps he himself is the evil father? But then what to make of Sofia Coppola, the acclaimed and successful daughter, a fine director in her own right? The Oedipal themes that arise may be more universal than autobiographical. The mother in Tetro however, is partly missing from the equation, a shadowy figure who who died in a car accident when Tetro/Angelo was driving. There are so many references to accidents one begins to fear one every time somebody goes out. And indeed walking a dog proves dangerous.
Bennie discovers Tetro's hidden manuscripts, which, like hidden memories, are written in mirror writing he says is "military school code." Among various Argentinian friends the youth meets "the most famous critic in Latin America," a woman who calls herself "Alone" (Carmen Maura, another Spanish actress, whom we know from films by Pedro Almodóvar). When Benie first arrives, Tetro has a broken leg. Later he breaks a leg himself, and while recovering he transcribes the MS. into normal writing and adds an ending. "Alone" runs an arts festival in Patagonia, and he has the unwitting collaboration translated into Spanish and enters in the festival competition, which it wins. Tetro rejects all this. Gallo's evocations of depression, anger, and hostility are extremely realistic. His final revelations and eventual warm acceptance of Bennie, whose accident causes him to miss his boat, are perhaps less convincing, though his performance is strong. Ehrenreich, who sometimes resembles a young, but more physically solid Leo DiCaprio, is touching and appealing.
It's not clear at first what the Powell/Pressberger 'Red Shoes' and 'Tales of Hoffman' have to do with the story, except that Tetro took Bennie to see them. But they illustrate a sensibility so steeped in cinema that it can't evoke emotion without remembering films. Everything in Tetro is highly artificial, or simply cinematic, but also convincingly emotional. The tensions between the brothers have been compared to those in Kazan's 'East of Eden,' and Coppola indeed thought of Kazan in making this film and has spoken of a felt rivalry with him. The Patagonian arts festival sequences recall both Fifties comedies and Fellini. For all this artificiality, the film stirred up plenty of discomfort in me. One can perfectly well awaken painful emotions by mimicking old films, as Todd Haynes did in his odd pastiche of Douglas Sirk, 'Far From Heaven.' 'Tetro' doesn't feel resolved; it has a little of the rambling incoherence of 'Youth Without Youth,' except that it is so much more intensely felt. Above all it is a unique work that is beautiful to look at and keeps one guessing. Coppola has said this is the kind of movie he wanted to make when he was young. Very well, it's a bit late for that; but why not?
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