Friday, June 25, 2010

Francis Ford Coppola's TETRO (2010)

Title: TETRO (2010)

Director/Writer: Francis Ford Coppola

Cast: Vincent Gallo, Maribel Verdu, Alden Ehrenreich


TETRO is the story of a tortured artist, a man who’s been beaten by life, who has decided that he doesn’t want to be a part of this world. So he lives like a recluse, with his girlfriend in a little apartment in Argentina. Family rivalry has taken its toll on TETRO, so he has decided to as he puts it: “divorce my family”. Problem is, family just wont stay away. One day, his long estranged little brother suddenly appears in his home, disrupting his “writing sabbatical”. Will TETRO open the doors to his family once again? Will he ever finish working on his masterpiece? Will his play ever hit the stage?

This is a movie that’s very close to my heart, its one of those movies that I immediately made a connection with as soon as I watched it. I made such a strong bond with TETRO because I am an artist myself, and I understand the suffering, the frustrations and the mental anguish involved with the creative process. Often times artists are troubled souls, they feel more than the usual person, they see things from a completely different angle. So I understood this dichotomy of the artist, trying to be true to himself as an artist, of wanting to express himself through his art, and having to deal with the crap that life can throw your way from time to time. I also understood how TETRO unites his own personal life with his art. Because it’s what I have always believed in, that no matter how out there your movie, your play or your book is, it should always have something of your own life experiences laced within it. I never went to filmschool (and I doubt Ill ever have the money to) so I picked up my own camera, wrote my own scripts, and filmed my own movies. And I still do it. But it isn’t easy when you aren’t a millionaire, often times, making a film can be a struggle, but one continues, because it’s a fulfilling experience, its what makes me feel truly alive. Much like TETRO’s struggle with writing his play.

On this movie, TETRO, the tortured artist, the angst ridden soul, is writing a play based on his life experiences. It’s a tragic tale filled with love, treachery and tragedy. It’s a story of rivals. TETRO hates his father, who is a famous musical conductor. He is so famous that people refer to him as “the maestro”. His fathers ego is so huge that when TETRO expresses his desires to become a writer his father replies “there is only room for one genius in this family”. So this familial rivalry is what fuels the films main story. Old hatred, secrets, and tragedy. TETRO hates his family so much, that he wants absolutely no contact with them. The thing is that you might not want to see your family, but family doesn’t just go away. As they say, ‘blood is thicker than water’. This is probably why Benny, TETRO’s long lost brother, is so determined to “save” TETRO from his great depression.

Benny is on a quest to "save" TETRO

The theme of family and family rivalry has been a favorite of Coppola’s for a long time now. The whole Godfather series of films was centered on this theme, and now TETRO readdresses it. Coppola says that this is a very personal film, that nothing that happens in the film happened, “but it’s all true”. By that I guess he means the films themes were inspired by real life, but things didn’t happen exactly the way we see them on the film. The Coppola family is one filled with lots of Hollywood talent. Coppola’s own father (Carmine Coppola) was a famous arranger/composer, so it’s easy to see why TETRO’s father is a music conductor. Talia Shire, the actress better known for playing Adrianne, Rocky’s wife in the Rocky films is Coppola’s sister. Director Sofia Coppola is his daughter, heck, even his nephews are famous, you might have heard of them: Nicolas Cage (born Nicolas Kim Coppola) and Jason Schwartzman. So it’s easy to see why the theme of family is so important in Coppola’s films. There is a lot of talent, a lot of art in Coppola’s family, and that struggle to be successful and famous was apparently a great pressure on Coppola’s family. “We were so promising, what happened to us?” asks one of the characters in the film. The answer: “rivalry”. It’s also easy to see why films made by Coppola’s family also deal with sibling rivalry. Films like for example The Darjeeling Limited (2007) also deal with this subject manner, probably because Francis Ford Coppola’s son Roman Coppola had a stab at writing it. So this is a family of talented individuals, who’s art creates a tension between them, and Coppola has reflected this tension on TETRO.

TETRO is a film that I enjoyed for various reasons. Number one is that this is a film made by a director who is fully in command of his directorial powers. With TETRO Coppola didn’t have to worry about making a commercially viable film, this is Coppola doing a film in which he is completely in control of everything we see and hear on the screen. The music is superb, and the visuals! Wow. The film was shot in black and white, I’m sure this was purposely done to augment TETRO’s sadness and despair. The play that goes on screen with the blacks and the whites, the shadows and the light makes for an interesting visual feast. Whenever the films goes to a flashback or a memory, the film momentarily switches to color. Like I said, a director fully in command.

What would a review of this film be without mentioning Vincent Gallo’s masterful performance as Angelo Tetrocinni? This is one of the best performances in his career, Gallo completely engulfed himself with this character, and its one of those rare instances when a character fits the performer perfectly. Gallo himself is a director who likes to make artful films that are not at all aimed at the mainstream. Gallo’s films focus on the art side of things, rather than on the money making side of the filmmaking business. Truth be told, his films are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I give him credit for being so truthful with his art. In real life, Gallo exudes this “fuck the world” aura to him, which is perfectly aligned with the character he plays on this film. TETRO is a character that hates the world for what it is, he hates ignorance, coldness, fakeness and stupidity. He is an intelligent individual that would rather live the life of a recluse than go outside and face the world. He hates his destiny in life and the only way he can communicate that is through his writing.

But as one of the character’s in the film says about TETRO: “He is an artist without many accomplishments” This line of dialog comes from Miranda, the love in TETRO’s life. I found it so beautiful that she was a lady who understood him, stood by him, didn’t give up on him. She recognized what TETRO needed in his life when she tells him: “You need success TETRO” and she is willing to stand by him, even if it means she is the only one. That was beautiful to me, such devotion to another person is a rare thing. The character was played by Maribel Verdu, the excellent Spanish actress whom some of you might remember from Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

This film takes place mostly in Argentina, and that fact gives the film a surreal kind of feel. Even though the film takes place during modern times, it still feels as if it took place during the 50’s, like something out of a film noir. Speaking of film, Coppola also takes the opportunity to comment on filmmaking. In TETRO one of the characters is a critic, and TETRO has been hurt by her comments on more than one occasion because she feels he hasn’t lived up to his promise. Will he ever live up to his promise under the watchful eye of the critic? Does TETRO even care what critics say about his work? TETRO's answers to these questions more than likely reveal how Coppola himself feels about the criticism his films have received. He understands this quite well. A lot of Coppola’s films though considered classics now, received harsh criticisms under their initial release. A lot of his films have even failed at the box office. Yet with time, they’ve come to be appreciated for the great films they are. I’m sure TETRO will be remembered as one of his good ones. Coppola himself thinks this is his most beautiful looking film. And so do I. If you are in the mood for and old school film, filled with operatics, bursts of emotion and tragic, tortured characters, I suggest you give TETRO a chance.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Part of the Cast and Crew of TETRO alongside director Francis Ford Coppola

TetroTetro [Blu-ray]Youth Without Youth


Gideon Strumpet said...

Well done, although I think you liked it a bit more than I did. For me, the driving force in this film was the juxtaposition of the desires of the two brothers, one trying to forget the past, while the other attempts to uncover it.

James Gracey said...

This sounds great - and I believe it'll be playing in the little arthouse cinema here in Belfast this month - I plan to check it out! Loved your review - nice to see a return to form of sorts for Coppola.

Franco Macabro said...

Gideon, totally agree about the juxtaposition between the brothers. The depressive reclusive one, and the outgoing one, with desires to become successful, and make a name for himself.

Still, you cant really blame Tetro for being the way he was, I mean, after all he'd been through. The mistake Tetro made was he didn't face his problems, he tried running away from them. Thanks for commenting Gideon!

@James: Glad you liked the review James, I think you'll enjoy this film if you like more introspective, emotional films. The acting on the film is a bit on the theatrical side, but then again, the film is about the theater, about art, about acting, so it goes with the territory. HOpe you enjoy it!


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