213) Tetro (2009) Dir: Francis Ford Coppola Date Released: June 2009 Date Seen: July 16th, 2009 Rating: 3/5
Something about being an independent filmmaker again brings out the Peter Greenaway in Francis Ford Coppola. Both 2007's Youth Without Youth and now Tetro are interesting failures that give in to Coppola's latent love of convoluted "more is more" filmmaking. Tetro's classical Hollywood plot stucture shows his reluctance to embrace that tendency towards cold expressionism. The film's straightforward, almost basic structure and themes--fraternal rivalry, a favorite of Coppola's--is at odds with the Greenawayian tendency to announce his mixture of love and frustration for artifice by being blatantly artificial, each shot so over-composed that the most jarring transitions cause instant tension headaches.
Tetro's an argument film, one that plays out like a dialectic between the dual aesthetic precepts of hack artist Abelardo (Mike Amigorena), directing, writing and performing in Fausta, or if Faust were a bimbo. The first such pronouncement comes when Abelardo, as the devil in Fausta, exclaims mock-seriously "Youth is naked." Despite Abelardo's inflection of irony, that's a statement of fact not up for discussion in Tetro. Alden Ehrenreich's impassioned performances as Bennie, the 18 year-old boy that goes in search of his older brother and tortured genius Tetro (Vincent Gallo), is testament to that. Bennie's narrative is portrayed with an aching sincerity made all the more heartfelt thanks to Ehrenreich's knack for playing the kind of bashful kid type that Matt Damon broke out with.
Had Tetro remained relatively grounded in that story and cut out a half hour earlier, Coppola's internal conflict could have been resolved amicably. As it is, Tetro ends but then keeps going, diving headlong into Greenaway territory for a half hour. Here the viewer is thrown into an abstract land of surreal posturing that refuses to celebrate its arrogantly accomplished attitude (Sean Burns described part of this quarter in his stellar review as "Fellini-esque" but Fellini would have had more fun while being alienatingly aloof). No, Tetro's irresponsibly drawn-out finale is a testament to Coppola's not-quite tacit agreement with Abelardo's other, more didactic, declaration, namely that "Theater is dead," a mirror to Greenaway's announcement that the "Cinema is dead."
The dribs and drabs of poetically cryptic images that seep through the flashbacks the film's first 90 minutes were sufficient, if not tentative, mergers of abstruse images and traditional storytelling, making the hyper-excessive ending redundant. Perhaps Coppola should just make a silent, avant garde short film and work out whatever creative trepidation he's got going on right now. In the meantime, I'll wait for a sequel to Youth Without Youth with baited breath.