TETRO (Francis Ford Coppola, 2009)

Writer-director Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro is a great, highly imaginative work—and, at the same time, Coppola’s most heartfelt, bleedingly personal film. It is (like The Godfather trilogy, 1972-1990) a family saga, this one about a blended Argentine and Italian family, like Coppola’s own. It is a film about brothers, about fathers and sons, about lost mothers and a lost love—and about a family betrayal.
     Vincent Gallo, a fine American filmmaker and fine actor, gives the performance of a lifetime as Angelo Tetrocinni, a once-promising writer who is estranged from his father and now calls himself Tetro, and lives with his girlfriend, Miranda (Maribel Verdú, excellent), in Buenos Aires. His broken leg in a cast, Bennie, Tetro’s 17-year-old brother, who hasn’t seen Tetro in ten years, visits and eventually completes, on the sly, one of Tetro’s old plays and arranges for its public performance. “I don’t want Bennie to save me,” Tetro tells Miranda. “I don’t want anybody to save me. . . . I understand this is your way of showing love.”
     Tetro is almost entirely in black and white, almost all of which is in exceedingly dim black and white—but without the optical torture that The Godfather, in color, imposes on the viewer. (Color, generally, is harder on the eyes.) Much about the Tetrocinni family, about its relationships, is hidden, and the film’s dark images correlate to this. At night, the parting of headlighted heavy traffic as Bennie wanders into it in his suicidal determination contrasts sharply with this. Moreover, bursts of rich color, mostly in flashbacks, also punctuate the dimness.
     In all likelihood, you will suspect (as did I) how Tetro and Bennie are really related. What family doesn’t have its secrets? What can be more difficult, sometimes, than giving or receiving love?

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