Tetro review - Francis Ford Coppola’s quixotic quest to re-invent himself as the oldest independent filmmaker in town continues with a tale of sibling rivalry and buried secrets shot in exquisite black-and-white.
Analogous to Rumble Fish, another monochrome tale of two brothers, Tetro also tips nods to Antonioni and Fellini and features a colour ballet in the total cinema style of Powell and Pressburger. Like Scorsese, Coppola steals only from the best.
The result is a boon for film buffs that’s mercifully free from the tedious inscrutability of his last pet project, the baffling Youth Without Youth. And though Tetro isn’t without its own longueurs, it still has enough zip, style and bravado to fend off suggestions it’s no more than an old man’s florid indulgence.
Newly arrived in Buenos Aires, 17-year-old Bennie (DiCaprio look-alike Alden Ehrenreich) heads for the bohemian neighbourhood of La Boca to locate Tetro (Vincent Gallo), the writer brother he hasn’t seen in a decade. Alas, the tetchy Tetro has no desire for a family reunion, having recently broken his ankle in a mysterious mishap that hints at suicidal tendencies.
Stumbling upon a manuscript that helps explain Tetro’s painful estrangement from their demanding composer father (Klaus Maria Brandauer), Bennie sets out to complete it. The resulting play catches the eye of a powerful critic (Carmen Maura) who agrees to stage it at her Patagonian festival – the setting for what ends up being a dramatic confrontation between Tetro and Bennie in which family secrets come tumbling out.
Inevitably, some will see the eventual pay-off coming. This, however, should not detract from the pleasure of watching a veteran director rediscover his mojo, or of seeing the oft-maligned Gallo put his bad-boy rep to good use in a performance of anguished volatility that recalls Marlon Brando.
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Coppola’s first original screenplay since The Conversation has spawned a visually arresting Oedipal fable that will cast as hypnotic a spell over receptive audiences as the highway headlights that tempt its heroes to their doom.