It only took Francis Ford Coppola 35 years to get back to where he once belonged - as a maker of arthouse films.
With 2007's Youth Without Youth and now Tetro, Coppola has returned to the more personal territory he explored in The Rain People and The Conversation. Tetro has the feeling of a novel; with its gorgeous black-and-white cinematography (by Mihai Malaimare Jr.), punctuated with color flashbacks and dream sequences, moody lighting and raffish milieus, it also has the look and feel of the Nouvelle Vague.
His story centers on Bennie (newcomer Alden Ehrenreich), an 18-year-old who has run away from military school in the U.S. and lied about his age to get a job as a waiter on a cruise ship. When his boat docks in Buenos Aires for engine repairs, he tracks down his long-absent older brother Angelo (Vincent Gallo), who prefers the name Tetro, a shorted version of his and Bennie's last name, Tetrocini.
But Tetro has rules: He doesn't want to answer Bennie's questions about the past (though Bennie has dozens) and he doesn't want to talk about their father (a famous conductor) or their family (they have different mothers).
In the course of Bennie's week ashore, he is introduced to the theatrical crowd with whom Tetro hangs out and is taken under the wing of Miranda (Maribel Verdu), Tetro's wife. But every time the conversation turns to their father or Tetro's own history, Tetro (once a budding writer) shuts Bennie down or explodes angrily. When Bennie is forced to stay on in Buenos Aires, he and Tetro quickly find more friction than common ground.
Beautifully shot and patiently told, "Tetro" is built on secrets and conflict, on a youth's first stirrings of manhood and the generational tussles between father and son, brother and brother. Its operative emotions at times outstrip its story, though, for the most part, Coppiola avoids the artier excesses of Youth Without Youth, focusing on the urge to create and the artist's need to make sense of his own life.
Instead, he slowly - sometimes too slowly - peels away the layers of this story, as Bennie gradually learns the details of Tetro's past, while stretching his own wings in ways that create raw feelings with his brother.
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