Thursday, June 18, 2009

Every Family Has A Secret

Almost four decades after he wrote The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola returns to original screenwriting with this personal drama about an Argentine-Italian family. Tetro stars Vincent Gallo and newcomer Alden Ehrenreich.

In the first shot of “Tetro”—the first of many gorgeous images to come—a moth struggles toward a light bulb’s blazing filament. That’s the dynamic that drives Francis Ford Coppola’s extravagant, and eventually lurid, tale of a tortured family. Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), a 17-year-old waiter on a cruise ship, stops by in Buenos Aires to search for his long-lost brother, Angelo (Vincent Gallo). He shows up at Angelo’s apartment which he shares with his girlfriend, Miranda (Maribel Verdu). Angelo, though, would rather be called Tetro, short for his family’s surname, Tetrocini. He has given up his passion for writing poetry and playwriting while bottling up the anger and sorrow that has scarred him in the past. He treats Bennie with hostility, yet, with the insistence of his girlfriend, he lets him stay at the apartment. Tetro’s bottled-up pain has something to do with the relationship between his father, Carlo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a famous conductor now living in the United States. In an interesting turn of events, Bennie decides to type out Tetro’s unfinished play and add an ending behind his back. He sends the script to a famous critic named Alone (Carmen Maura), who loves it so much that she enters it into the Festival Patagonia which she runs on her own. Once Tetro discovers that Bennie submitted and altered the play, he’s forced to confront his troubled past, which won’t be spoiled here. Writer/director Francis Ford Coppola has crafted a very intricate, intelligent drama that gradually reveals more and more layers and revelations pertaining to character development through the use of flashbacks. There’s much more to Tetro and Bennie, for that matter, than meets the eye, which makes them increasingly interesting and complex characters even though they’re not particularly likable. Coppola shoots the present-day scenes in lush black-and-white while filming the flashback and some ballet sequences in bright colors. At times, the film’s tone feels uneven and distracting from the overall momentum as it gyrates between poignant drama, and absurdity or bizarreness à la David Lynch which will cause you to briefly scratch you head in bewilderment as if you were watching a strange dream. It’s interesting to observe the evolving dynamic between Bennie and Tetro as well how Tetro’s play---or art in general---reflects life itself and vice versa. Tetro manages to be visually arresting and intelligently crafted for the most part, but its slightly uneven tone diminishes its overall power to captivate and engross you thoroughly. It’s tempting to see aspects of the filmmaker’s own family in this saga, but literal resemblances are few and beside the point. What drives his screenplay is the fatal lure of mythic themes—blind passion, epic rivalry, parricide and shattering tragedy. Tetro turns out to be not one movie but, at the very least, two—a Fellini-esque (or Coppola-esque) concatenation of drama, dance and opera (with a nod to Alphonse Daudet), and a modest, appealing coming-of-age story that involves Maribel Verdú as Tetro’s girlfriend. When she speaks English she’s merely marvelous. In her native Spanish she is dazzling. This is an excellent effort by Coppola that should not be missed. A 3 on my "Go See" scale.

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