Sunday, June 06, 2010
For Rent: Tetro
Francis Ford Coppola's first original screenplay since The Conversation is full of familiar signposts; there are complicated sibling relationships and large gatherings throughout Tetro, but the central action concerns what lies unspoken between two brothers. Tetro (Vincent Gallo) is a writer slumming it in Buenos Aires with his girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu, who breathes a good deal of life into all her scenes). The couple are visited by Tetro's younger half-brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), a teenager who has found his way to Argentina thanks to a cruise ship job. Both brothers are running from the tyranny of their father (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a famous conductor not shy about moving in on his sons' girlfriends.
"Personal" is the word that has been associated most with Tetro, both in the film's marketing materials and in Coppola's own DVD commentary. However much Tetro may have been shaped by Coppola's relationship with his own older brother, it's easier to buy Bennie as the object of desire for both an older actress and her niece than as a budding writer. A modulated Gallo is more believable as an intellectual, yet despite some funky locations and gorgeous B&W cinematography by Mihai Malaimaire Coppola never really situates Tetro within an artistic community. There's an indistinct plot about the production of a play and a critic (Carmen Maura) who can make or break Tetro, but the actors playing the theater troupe all blend together and the climactic banquet scene looks like something a cranky Woody Allen would have filmed. Despite its incongruities - Tetro is set in the present, but we only know because of the odd cell phone and computer - the film rumbles along pleasantly enough however. All of that rehearsal (documented on the DVD) paid off, since Gallo and Ehrenreich generate some real emotional heat as old truths are revealed. I'm happy to see Coppola working in a small, personal mode. Now that these family issues are off his plate I look forward to him turning his eye to the world.