Tetro (15)

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The Independent Culture

Francis Ford Coppola has been less public than Allen during his lean times.

I'm not sure Tetro will revive the glory days, still less win him a new generation of followers, but it does at least show him willing to take risks. Written by Coppola himself and shot in lustrous black and white, it tells a story of fraternal tension and artistic rivalry in Buenos Aires. Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), an 18-year-old on the lam from military school, arrives in the city's bohemian neighbourhood of La Boca to reunite with the older brother, Tetro (Vincent Gallo), he hasn't seen in over ten years.

Mysteriously estranged from their family, Tetro wants only to be left alone, so his girlfriend, Miranda (Maribel Verdú), takes the innocent Bennie under her wing, showing him an unfinished play Tetro has written about his domineering musician father (Klaus Maria Brandauer). There follows an almighty ding-dong when Bennie, fired up by his brother's inspiration, decides to finish the play.

Coppola revisits the misplaced adoration between brothers in Rumble Fish (1983) – a personal favourite of mine – and he also stirs into the brew a pinch of Fellini and the Powell-Pressburger dance dramas The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann. Unfortunately he rather overcooks it, allowing the essentially realistic portrait of a brotherly bond to congeal into a mash-up of melodrama and silliness. The last 20 minutes of the film are nearly unwatchable. It rather undermines gracious work by Verdú as Tetro's long-suffering girlfriend and newcomer Ehrenreich's forlorn hero-worshipper. Even Gallo manages to rein in his more histrionic inclinations as an actor. Tetro will not be to everyone's taste, and in the long perspective of Coppola's career it will figure as a minor work, but for all its splashiness there is an energy and snap to it I found refreshing. That vitality might kid you into thinking it's also the work of a much younger film-maker.