Francis Ford Coppola's grand return to form
Rating: TetroTetroTetroTetro

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdú, Silvia Pérez, Rodrigo De la Serna, Erica Rivas, Mike Amigorena, Lucas Di Conza, Adriana Mastrángelo, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Leticia Brédice, Sofía Gala, Jean-François Casanovas, Carmen Maura, Francesca De Sapio, Ximena Maria Iacono, Susana Giménez, Pochi Ducasse. Written by Coppola, from the verse “Fausta” by Mauricio Kartun.

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Francis Ford Coppola´s Tetro, which premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and opened in limited release in the US shortly after, has finally made it to Czech cinemas two years later. It was worth the wait: this is Coppola´s best work as a director in 20 years, since Tucker: The Man and His Dream, and maybe even 30 years, since Apocalypse Now opened in 1979.

Tetro stars Vincent Gallo as Angelo ‘Tetro´ Tetrocini, a man who fled to Buenos Aires to escape his domineering father, a famous conductor. Years later, his (considerably) younger brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) stops in Buenos Aires after the cruise ship he´s working for breaks down. He finds Tetro as a broken man, barely functional, looked after by understanding wife Miranda (Maribel Verdú), formerly his nurse in a mental institution.

Years after running away, Tetro still wants nothing to do with his family, even the loving brother he abandoned years ago. He has long since given up his dream of writing, content to operate the lights in a tiny local theater. But Bennie pushes and pries and eventually forces himself into Tetro´s life.

This film is phenomenally acted, by a wide-eyed Gallo in the title role but more impressively by Verdú (who also made quite an impression in Y Tu Mamá También and Pan´s Labyrinth), portraying the one consistently sympathetic character, and Ehrenreich, who effortlessly channels that movie star charisma, so rarely seen, in his first feature film. Ehrenreich has yet to make another feature (though he´s also in Coppola´s next film, no release date set), but make no mistake: he is a major star, going by his performance in Tetro, on the level of a Leonardo DiCaprio.

In smaller roles, Klaus Maria Brandauer and Carmen Maura are memorable as Tetro´s father and Alone, an influential South American theater critic, respectively.

Tetro is a skillfully composed film (indeed, it´s been edited by Walter Murch), beautifully shot in black & white, made by a director who had perfected his craft long ago, perhaps lost it, and is now tuning and re-discovering it. There´s a lot to like here, but best of all is the sign of a great director returning to great filmmaking after a too-long absence.

The slow and steady demise of Francis Ford Coppola was one of contemporary cinema’s saddest stories; he was once that rare director who could make grand artistic successes in Hollywood like The Godfather and The Conversation; after the grueling experience of making Apocalypse Now, he graduated into less-artistic Hollywood successes like The Cotton Club and Bram Stoker´s Dracula, before tumbling into hack territory with Jack and Supernova.

After an extended hiatus, Coppola returned with the self-financed Youth Without Youth, dismissed by most as impenetrably pretentious. Now he gives us Tetro, a similarly pretentious film that is infinitely more approachable. Coppola´s father was a famous conductor, his family has often been in the spotlight; he´s put a lot of himself into Tetro, his most personal film. The themes here, however, are universal.

Tetro makes for an interesting comparison piece to Somewhere, the latest from Coppola´s daughter Sofia. They both focus on the hardships and difficult lives of the famous and wealthy, not a topic that will endear them to wide audiences. But there´s something that breaks through anyway.


Also opening: Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop (showtimes), one of the best documentaries of 2010. I caught it last year on UK DVD and reviewed it here.

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