DIR/WRI: Francis Ford Coppola • PRO: Francis Ford Coppola • DOP: Mihai Malaimare Jr. • ED: Walter Murch • DES: Sebastián Orgambide • CAST: Alden Ehrenreich, Vincent Gallo, Maribrl Verdú
Now I know what a dog locked in a car on a hot day feels like. Tetro is an excruciating experience and its energy-sapping sense of its own magnitude is preposterous. Waiting for the credits was like the dog waiting for its owner to return to the car. I jumped up and gasped for air, thankful to still be conscious.
Tetro is Francis Ford Coppola’s first original screenplay for almost 30 years since his tense, paranoia-fueled debut The Conversation (which is set to be reimagined for a TV series). In the meantime he’s been behind the camera for several of the most lauded epics of modern cinema, and more recently the awful crud that was Jack and Youth Without Youth.
In his new film, Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) travels to Buenos Aires in search of his older brother Tetro (Vincent Gallo). Tetro was once destined to be a writer but has been wrestling with daddy issues and, as a result, his magnum opus is no more than the coded scribblings of a neurotic procrastinator. Who will enter his life, find his writing, make him wrestle with his daddy demon and decode and finish his magnificent octopus? Cue Bennie…
Gallo’s tortured writer is a melting pot of his trademark quirks and humourless sense of self-importance and his pseudo intense delivery of lines is always guaranteed to drag proceedings from the ridiculous to the sublimely ridiculous. Alden Ehrenreich puts in a decent Di Caprio-like performance, but is a little lightweight when tackling the film’s more lofty ambitions. The excellent Carmen Maura at least has a bit of fun with her role, camping it up as influential Argentinean cultural critic ‘Alone’.
The film plods along gazing doefully at its own naval and fails miserably to engage with the familial issues at hand. There are far too many car crashes. They say that in dreams car crashes may be a sign pointing to something in your life that needs repair, perhaps Coppola’s overuse of them in Tetro points to his writing career being beyond repair.
Coppola behind the camera is another matter altogether. The film looks great. Mainly shot in monochrome on digital in HD, there are a number of beautifully shot sequences, including a Powell & Pressburger tribute, and Beunos Aires looks amazing. Coppola’s DOP, Mihai Malaimare Jr., uses the black and white to great effect as it gives off a radiant and luminous brightness and his distribution of light and shade make for some sumptuous shots. Sadly, all of this is belittled by the overblown, turgid pomposity of the hogwash that is the script. The film utterly fails to connect on any sort of emotional level and the tension that should be present in such a tale of familial betrayal is remarkably absent. There really is nothing to care about here.
A bloated, dying beast of a film, whose visions of theatrical grandeur are laughable, based as they are in half-arsed melodrama and Oedipal pontificating. The overblown writing masks a poor unsatisfactory story, as each development is hammered into place to resemble a child’s jigsaw. The film descends into some sort of grandiose Empire Strikes Back parody, while all the time begging to be taken seriously. Ridiculous muck. Hopefully this is last time we’ll have to suffer an original Coppola screenplay. Someone should make him an offer he can’t refuse.