Fresh-faced and naive, 17-year-old Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) arrives in Buenos Aires to search for his older brother who has been missing for more than a decade. The family had emigrated from Italy to Argentina, but with the great musical success of their father Carlo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), an acclaimed symphony conductor, the family moved from Argentina to New York. When Bennie finds his brother, the volatile and melancholy poet Tetro (Vincent Gallo), he is not at all what Bennie expected. In the course of staying with Tetro and his girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdú), Bennie grapples with his brother and the haunting experiences of their shared past in this widely acclaimed film by legendary director Francis Ford Coppola.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Oh, Francis Ford Coppola. How the mighty have fallen.
From his heyday in the 1970s, with his unparalleled string of creative and commercial triumphs ('The Godfather' films 'Apocalypse Now,' 'The Conversation') the director has slipped steadily. His uneven productivity in the 1980s ('One from the Heart,' his "S.E. Hinton Period") gave way to occasional redemption for a moment or two (his last triumph was 1992's outstanding monster movie 'Bram Stoker's Dracula') but has suffered from general decline ever since his early period heyday.
He's still compared to that other Italian American filmmaker Martin Scorsese for some reason, even though Scorsese regularly churns out masterpieces, while Coppola is content with treading water.
Which brings us to 'Tetro,' Coppola's latest misfire. The trailer for the movie had me incredibly excited – it looked visually ravishing and emotionally sound. "He's back!" I wanted to exclaim. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong. While not as criminally awful as his previous film, the bizarre Tim Roth-gets-struck-by-lightning folly 'Youth Without Youth,' in terms of 'Tetro,' well, don't call it a comeback. Because it's not. It's just bad.
The movie is an incredibly small story (at least initially), about a young man Bennie (newcomer Alden Ehrenreich), who comes to Argentina to visit his older brother, who now calls himself Tetro (Vincent Gallo). Bennie is on leave from his job as a waiter on a cruise ship and wants to reconnect with his estranged sibling. Tetro lives with his gorgeous girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu) but fails to live up to his creative potential (hmmm, what's that Coppola?) For a while the movie kind of drifts along, exploring the dynamics of their relationship, setting up a bit of a triangle, and letting Bennie become a kind of detective, filling in the gaps in the life of his mysterious brother.
And for a while the movie is Coppola's most enjoyable film since 'Dracula' (or at least 'The Rainmaker'). Part of this is because of Mihai Malaimare's gorgeous widescreen black-and-white photography (flashbacks are in 4:3 and in color), part of it is because of a device that allows snippets from Powell and Pressburger's 1951 film 'Tales of Hoffmann' to be woven into the narrative, and just the general spell that the movie puts you under; one of mystery, missed opportunities, and familial betrayal.
But then things explode. And by 'explode' I mean 'fizzle out.' As the movie goes on and on (and on and on – at 127 minutes it's at least 45 minutes too long), the melodrama intensifies but for no discernable reason. Maybe because nothing has happened up until this point? But does that really matter? We've been having a perfectly enjoyable time. But no. A movie that felt just a little bit phony has turned, in the interest of melodrama and giant plot mechanics, into a groan-inducing, utterly pretentious mess.
And despite the film being anchored by a trio of fine performances (Maribel Verdu in particular shines), they can't overcome the mushiness of the content. Had Coppola decided to pull away from the latter theatrics (both literal and metaphoric), then he could have had a special little movie on his hands. It might not have been a bold return to glory, but it at least would have been a better movie. At this point, he seems beyond redemption. Me? I'll be in line for the new Scorsese movie.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB disc is Region A locked. It auto-plays and subjects you to a couple of awful trailers for other Lionsgate releases before depositing you at the main menu. And that's about it.
The AVC-MPEG-4 encoded 1080p transfer (2.35:1 in the "present," 4:3 in the "flashbacks") is mostly quite stunning.
Let's put it this way: you won't exactly be talking about Coppola's first original screenplay since 'The Conversation.' Instead, you'll be talking about how pretty 'Tetro' is.
Black and white has been served particularly well by the high definition format and this is no different. Black levels are good, there are nice levels of grey, and overall the picture quality is outstanding. There are, however, a couple of scenes that are just too grainy. Like, grainier than older black and white movies. And this really shouldn't be the case. These sequences are distracting and unnecessary and take you out of the movie in a major way.
The color flashbacks/fantasy sequences are even more impressive, although the color in these sequences have been intentionally heightened so talking about them in any "real world" terms is a bit redundant. They just look really, really good.
The other thing you'll come away with from this transfer is how good the bits from 'Tales of Hoffmann' look. With 'Black Orpheus' and 'Red Shoes' coming our way this summer from Criterion, hopefully 'Tales of Hoffmann' will be next. This will certainly make you hungry for it.
Just like the video, the English/Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is generally quite good but I do have my reservations.
Overall, this track is quite strong. There are really two halves of this audio presentation: dialogue (of which there is much) and then the more operatic musical sequences. Both of these sound sterling: dialogue is always crisp, clear and well-prioritized, while the more musical sequences have some real heft to them.
All that said, there are some issues with the sound effects (handled by Walter Murch, the acclaimed editor of the film), which sound overbearing and phony. This may have been a problem with the original mix, which could have been equally clunky (I'm not sure, I didn't see it in the theater), but in your home theater it sounds even more glaringly off. Oh well.
There are English subtitles throughout, since a large majority of the movie is set in Argentina. There is only one audio option but there are subtitles available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
Nothing too exceptional here although there are a nice collection of extras. Here's the one thing that confused me: the "end credits" are a special feature, but they are no different than the end credits of the actual movie. So I'm not going to talk about them here.
- Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola and Actor Alden Ehrenreich For a while, you'll think they've made a mistake. This is Coppola's show for a good long while. And then, awkwardly, they start cutting in stuff from another commentary with young Ehrenreich, who was still in high school during the time of filming. His comments are actually more interesting than Coppola's monotone, when he's usually just recounting the film's plot. Except, you know, we're watching it too.
- The Ballet (HD, 8:06) This brief featurette is about the original construction of the film's dance sequences. I wasn't into this much but you might be interested. Not an essential piece of behind-the-scenes stuff by any stretch of the imagination, though.
- Mihal Malaimare, Jr.: The Cinematography (HD, 8:30) This is a fairly engaging little doc about the cineatographer and the cinematography of 'Tetro.' In particular, they talk about the decision to shoot widescreen black-and-white and fullscreen flashbacks/fantasies, as well as the decision to shoot mostly locked-down, without too many camera movements. That last decision provided some problems for the cast. This is well worth watching.
- The Rehearsal Process (HD, 8:33) Coppola loves to rehearse. Some of the actors? Not so much. This is actually a pretty engaging look at the man's process and how it sometimes clashed with his performers. Well worth a look. (Editor's Note: For more on this, listen to the original audio commentary on 'Can't Hardly Wait.' Seriously!)
- Osvaldo Golijov: Music Born from the Film (HD, 9:16) This wasn't my favorite featurette, but it was kind of illuminating in the fact that I thought most of this music was classical stuff that Coppola had appropriated. But nope. Original music!
- La Colifata: Siempre Ful Loco (HD, 5:47) This was one of my favorite bits (and, of course, one of the shortest). There's a section of the film set in a mental institution that Tetro has admitted himself to. At this mental institution there's a thing called La Colifata, which is basically a radio program where the patients get on a microphone and air their grievances with the world. Apparently this is a very real thing and many of the people in the sequence in the movie were real patients. (Coppola read about it in the New York Times and was inspired.) Really interesting stuff.
- Fausta: A Drama in Verse (HD, 4:34) This is an extended version of a play within the movie (with some plentiful nudity).
Talking about 'Tetro' here made me like it even less. It's not the disaster that 'Youth Without Youth' was, but it's still not very good. If you saw the movie in the theater (fat chance) and liked it, then you should feel good about picking up this Blu-ray. The audio and video are quite good and there's a nice, if unspectacular, collection of extras. Those who remember Coppola's heyday, or even have a soft spot in our hearts for 'Dracula' (and I don't mean your neck) will feel different. Pretty is pretty, but dull is dull. Give it a rent, but just for morbid curiosity.
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