Film Review

Colin Dibben

It gets hard to name good Coppola films after 1983, but his latest release includes a dance workout and a pajama party with no pajamas - in a Jacuzzi – so who’s complaining? The director’s love of fifties’ and early sixties’ widescope monochrome is also evident in this melodramatic mood piece.

The blurbs call his new release, Tetro, Coppola’s “most personal film to date”, “a return to his screenwriting roots”, even a revisiting of his youthful dream of becoming a successful playwright.

The film tells the story, in an oblique, languid European arthouse film style, of two estranged brothers from a wealthy and cultured American family, who meet again in Buenos Aires. The older brother, Tetro, played with unfocused intensity by Vincent Gallo (Buffalo 66, The Brown Bunny), has gone all erratic and bohemian after shacking up with his psychiatrist, Miranda, played by the definitely fetching Maribel Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien and Pan’s Labyrinth). The younger brother, Bennie, is played with early di Caprio-style studied innocence by newcomer, Alden Ehrenreich.

Much of the film was filmed on location in the picturesque La Boca district of Buenos Aires. The characters flit from street café to actor’s party to fringe performance venue, arguing and emoting and throwing stuff at each other. There’s a rather clunky family story in there somewhere but it never gets in the way of the series of impressively composed fixed shots.

Surprisingly, it’s not the locations that make the film, even when the characters leave Buenos Aires to travel around the stunning landscapes of Patagonia. Tetro comes across as a homage to, well Coppola mentions black-and-white Cinemascope movies by Akira Kurosawa and Elia Kazan, but I reckon there’s a doff of the fedora or two to Federico Fellini too. In fact, I would say that unless you know and like both Kazan and Fellini, you won’t like this film. That’s not saying you will definitely like Tetro if you like Kazan and Fellini …

What stops Tetro being impressive – a good zombification of old-school modernist chic movie-making like fifties/sixties’ Fellini and Antonioni (once you start namedropping it is hard to stop) – is that the story reaches for something as grand as the visuals but snags on melodrama. The family story is sentimental and banal, driven by characters and actors who are too expressive and extrovert (typically “American”?) not to clash with the visuals. There is, for example, a line of dialogue that runs: “Are you fucking crazy? I never had a proper mother and father …!” – which seemed to have run in from the film playing next door.

At one point, Tetro describes his overbearing father as “a poet without poetry” – and you could say something similar about this film. Although it would be awfully pretentious to do so.

Watch Tetro at Everyman Screen on the Green at the below screenings

Monday 28th June 15:30

Tuesday 29th June 20:30

Wednesday 30th June 17:30 20:30

Thursday 1st July 20:30 

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