You’ve got to give major respect to Francis Ford Coppola for deciding to follow his muse this late in the game and continuing to make films like he’s fresh out of art-school. Do these films always work? No, but there’s a sense of adventure about his latest period of film-making that’s refreshing. These films are self-financed, so at least we’re confident in knowing that they’re exactly what he wants and meant for them to be.
And with Tetro, I think it’s safe to say that Coppola has made another solid feature film. No, it’s better than that. It might reach the heights of some of his masterpieces, but it’s pretty great.
Primarily filmed in black-and-white, color flourishes are reserved for fantasy sequences, Tetro marries Coppola’s two primary story-telling modes: big, operatic pieces and miniature character-focused pieces. Occasionally this marriage of the two styles gets away from him at the expense of the narrative, but he makes up for it with images that are consistently beautiful, bordering on ethereal at times, and heavily influenced by noir in others.
The story concerns the reunion of two long-estranged brothers in modern day Buenos Aires. This intimate bond, and the long-buried secrets that have kept them estranged, concerns much of the plot of the film. It unravels at a leisurely pace for the first hour or so, until the third act blows the entire roof off the joint in its operatic styling and revelations.
Coppola’s cast is game, and the three major players all deliver solid work. Alden Ehrenreich makes his debut here, and does solid work. Maribel Verdú stars as Tetro’s wife, and much like her work in Pan’s Labyrinth, she brings a soulful and supportive maternity along with a free-spirited nature. But it’s Vincent Gallo’s performance in the titular role that lingers the longest in the memory. His large eyes project a haunted and manic nature, and it’s his performance that ties together the earlier chamber pieces with the later excesses that threaten to overcook the material.
Despite being a little uneven in spots, Tetro holds out interests because it manages to invest us so deeply in the emotions and secrets of these three characters. The third-act reveal makes everything that has come before it shine in a different light, and things that once seemed oblique make perfect sense. It’s a strange, intoxicating blend of material, yet Coppola is clearly doing exactly what he wants to artistically. That kind of commitment is to be applauded, as is his penchant for still crafting small, independent art house fare while so many of his peers simply kick-back and cash in on grand, blockbuster entertainments.