Awards potential suddenly shrinks to one category: cinematography.
The Hollywood Reporter
“Tetro” looks like the work of a film school grad, his head swimming with the classic black-and-white European films of the ’50s and ’60s and his mind unable to shake his struggles with his family. And yet, its author is Francis Ford Coppola, making a mostly triumphant return to his earlier filmmaking days and to Cannes itself, where he has picked up a couple of Palme d’Ors…
“Tetro” represents a collision of genres — the coming-of-age tale (Bennie) and the Oedipal conflict in a son who wishes to kill his father (Tetro). In the end, it’s about family, about the rivalries, conflicts and healing. It’s also about Coppola leaving the U.S. for a bohemian, Italian-influenced district of Buenos Aires to rediscover his art and love for film.
Although markedly better than his previous small-scaled, self-financed film, “Youth Without Youth,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tetro” is still a work of modest ambition and appeal. Gloriously shot in mostly black-and-white widescreen in Buenos Aires, Coppola’s first original screenplay since 1974’s “The Conversation” hinges on the tension between two long-separated brothers dominated by an artistic genius father. The angst-ridden treatment of Oedipal issues makes the picture play out like a passably talented imitation of O’Neill, Williams, Miller and Inge, and thus it feels like the pale product of an over-tilled field.
Coppola hints at the dissatisfaction he felt over taking too many studio gigs when Tetro‚Äôs wife nimbly breaks down his ubiquitous rage. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs like a genius without that many accomplishments,‚Äù she says.
An autobiographical reading of ‚ÄúTetro‚Äù certainly has merits, but won‚Äôt change the movie‚Äôs fairly average appeal. Gorgeous, high contrast imagery and exquisite mise-en-scene show that Coppola can still establish a distinctive mood (the contributions of his longtime editor, the legendary Walter Murch, also come in handy). Ironic for a feature about writing, the trouble lies with the trajectory of the screenplay (his first since ‚ÄúThe Conversation,‚Äù a Palme d‚ÄôOr winner in 1974), which uses basic contrivances shared by many family dramas. A few mildly appealing cinematic flourishes occasionally elevate the experience, but the central problem with ‚ÄúTetro‚Äù comes from the assumption that the final play has real aesthetic merits. The result is that this story of a vanity project ultimately becomes one.
The debut of a new Coppola stirred hope and foreboding; and both were warranted. The great news is that this unquestioned giant of American cinema, who sired the Godfather films, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now in the ’70s, is still making independent-minded movies three decades later. The bad news is that he made this one.
Still, the film, which uses the same team Coppola found for the much more daring and romantic Youth Without Youth, looks great. After hundreds of movies and TV shows shot in the shaky-cam style, it’s a blessing to find one where the camera is on a tripod ‚Äî and, Coppola notes, never moves. That gives Tetro the stateliness of silent films, just as the use of glistening or sepulchral black-and-white brings some of the glamour of classic Hollywood. But Coppola fans want him to recapture the dramatic coherence and operatic grandeur of his most productive decade. The movie plays not like an old man’s film but like a promising, frustrating student effort.
Forcefully acted and sumptuously shot in gleaming black and white, it is an artistic picture that occasionally ‚Äì nay, frequently ‚Äì strains too hard for credibility, as Coppola‚Äôs script shoots for nothing less than tragedy.
But any pretensions are easy to forgive given the undoubted sincerity of the project, and Coppola should be applauded for both taking a gamble on Gallo and for introducing 18-year-old Ehrenreich to the screen.