TETRO is a beautiful, fantastical, shamelessly self-indulgent movie about family dysfunction and the impossibility of living with a self-proclaimed genius. It is worth watching for the cinematography and Vincent Gallo's lead performance alone - but there are many other joys to be had - not least a blistering cameo from Klaus Maria Brandauer; a cheeky little Dolce Vita moment featuring Carmen Maura; and a wonderful little Red Shoes homage.
The most surprising thing about TETRO is that is was written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola - indeed, it is his first writer-director credit since THE CONVERSATION. The result is a movie that feels nothing like Coppola's mafia epics - despite some similarity in the emotional material. TETRO also feels nothing like Coppola's last movie - another self-financed (and unjustifiably maligned) art-house flick - YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH. That movie was beautifully shot, but serious, mournful, byzantine in its structure and conceit. By contrast, while TETRO may deal with the most violent of emotions, but it always has a playful, self-mocking edge. At times, it almost feels like the lighter parts of Almodovar. Every character is sometimes aware that they are striking a pose - that is, except Miranda (Maribel Verdu - Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) who is the emotional heart of the film.
Tetro is the pen-name of playwright Angelo Tetracini (Vincent Gallo). He cut loose from his domineering, Mephisto-like conductor father (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and ran off to Buenos Aires. This movie opens as his little brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich - a dead-ringer for the young Leo diCaprio) shows up on his doorstep - still hero-worshipping his elder brother but also angry that Tetro left him behind with the monster-father. Tetro's girlfriend Miranda adores having Bennie around, but for Tetro to come to terms with a relationship with Bennie, he will have to confront many family ghosts. That - and a performance at a arts festival in Patagonia - provide the narrative and emotional drive of the movie.
Gallo perfectly embodies the hard-faced charisma of Tetro. Ehrenreich has just the right mix of vulnerability and chutzpah to be able to pull off the central con of Bennie finishing Tetro's long abandoned play. Verdu's Miranda is charming and credible - anchoring a movie featuring all sorts of crazy characters. I particularly loved Carmen Maura as "Alone" - the theatre critic that allows Coppola to spoof the art-house world he is at once seeking to re-engage with. But the real masterstroke is casting Klaus Maria Brandauer (MEPHISTO) as Papa Tetracini - world-famous composer, charmer and shit. The genius is that even an old and flabby Brandauer can be charming enough to convince as the seducer of his young son's girlfriend - or as the firebrand Furtwaenglerian composer. He commands attention in every scene he's in and we can well understand why his sons struggle to escape from his physical and emotional presence.
I loved TETRO - moreso on the second viewing. And I am thrilled that Coppola is moving back to these self-financed, self-penned utterly artistically liberated movies.
Additional tags: alden ehrenreich, maribel verdu, rodrigo de la serna, klaus maria brandauer, osvaldo golijov, mihai malaimare jr
TETRO played Cannes and Toronto 2009 and was released in Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France last year. It was released in Hungary and Brazil earlier this year and is currently on release in the UK.