Tetro (2009)

Over the past ten years Francis Coppola has retreated into making increasingly personal and experimental films beginning with Youth Without Youth in 2007, continuing with Tetro and culminating (for now) in 2012’s Twixt. These films feel like open wounds. Semi-autobiographical and confessional, they find Coppola mining his own life for inspiration as well as his earliest, most abstract influences. 

Tetro is something of a companion piece to Coppola’s earlier Rumble Fish (which the filmmaker frequently cites as a favourite of his own work) and, like that film, sees his passions beautifully rendered in black and white. It’s another story of two brothers (Vincent Gallo and Alden Ehrenreich), with Argentina providing the backdrop and the low-key theatre and art life as the subject. The film works best when it settles into a mood or a space. I think of the wide shots in the apartment or theatre spaces gorgeously captured in pin-sharp HD by DP Mihai Mălaimare Jr. (who would later shoot The Master). It is unashamedly poetic and quiet when need be and for the most part avoids the brash opera that defines Coppola’s most celebrated works. The film exudes a feeling and a mourning for something that isn’t dour or too heavy. It’s like the first light of morning, when everything is silent and a new day is being contemplated. Now I sound like a character in the film, but see: this is the effect it has on you. You begin to live this world.

Vincent Gallo is a strange actor and one I always struggle with. His persona is almost too big for the characters he plays and he generally just seems like a bit of a douche and yet this is a quality he shares with many other Coppola actors, making him perfect for the job. This might be my favourite performance I’ve seen of his and he embodies both a young Pacino and Matt Dillon (the original choice for the role) at times. I’d like to see the two of them work together again in the future as there is a chemistry here filled with potential. Also Ehrenreich is captivating as Gallo’s younger brother and just goes to show that Coppola lost none of his skill for spotting young talent in his older age. I’ve no doubt Tetro will experience something of a tiny resurgence of interest in light of Ehrenreich’s Han Solo outing and for a film so clearly culled from the inner-concerns and deep passions of its filmmaker, that will be a small victory.

Watched on blu-ray

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