Have you ever seen a trailer for a film and thought ‘This looks brilliant. I must watch it.’ Then you watch it and all the best bits were in the trailer and the rest of the film is just not for you? That’s Francis Ford Coppola’s black and white film, ‘Tetro’.
It’s quite an old film now – it came out in 2009 – and I hadn’t seen it, but the trailer depicted a lively film with a strange and quirky rapport between two brothers, one a young ingénu and another eccentric and jaded. The younger, Bennie, is now a waiter on a cruise ship and he visits his older brother, Tetro, in Buenos Aires. Tetro is crotchety, not pleased to see him, he refuses to call him brother. He lives with Miranda, a psychiatrist who has nursed him back to health and now she panders to his every need.
At first it looks like Tetro – played quite well by Vincent Gallo – is an interesting character. He’s mercurial, enigmatic, charismatic and petulant. At first, it feels like we’re watching a play by Tennessee Williams: both men share an overbearing father who somehow destroyed their lives and, in particular, was the abusive driving force behind Tetro’s disappearance. So when the brothers meet, there is some unravelling of their past to be done and sparks will inevitably fly.
The acting is good. Certainly, Gallo as Tetro and Maribel Verdú as Miranda do their best with an implausible script. Alden Ehrenreich as Bennie is credible, despite looking like Dicaprio as Arnie Grape.
The film has several problems for me: it is indulgent, boring, contrived, implausible, over-complicated and pretentious.
Harsh words, certainly, but just watch the scene where Tetro walks towards the awards ceremony carrying an axe and his subsequent interchange with Bennie, where the poor actor playing Tetro has to repeatedly beg his ‘brother’ to kill him. It just doesn’t work.
Subsidiary characters are stereotypes. The camera shows several women’s bodies from an aesthetic male viewpoint: the film stems from a rigid concept where women exist to serve men and I was never going to get much from such a conceit. Poor Miranda does everything for Tetro, only to be harangued, blamed, stood up and ignored. She even pours his breakfast coffee and gives him spiritual and career guidance. We see in flashback the scene where she fell in love with him. She was his psychotherapist and he was aloof and damaged, a gifted writer burned out and in need of being rescued and revived. So of course this beautiful woman rescues him and dedicates her life to his genius and continues to do it against odds and abuse. Not my sort of film at all!
The story which follows includes Tetro’s patriarchal misuse at the hands of his father who is a genius conductor. Tetro is damaged for so many reasons: flashbacks show us his part in a car accident involving his opera singer mother and his loss of true love, provoked by his egomaniac father. Bennie’s mother is in a coma. Some of these scenes are shown as ballets and we’re supposed to drop our jaws at the meaningful moment. It doesn’t work: it is pretentious and improbable and all the while, the women are rag dolls, drudges, dupes or dead.
There is a scene where Tetro is driven to Patagonia by Miranda where he will, finally, be rewarded for his genius. We see the sparkling light from the sun on the snow of the mountain range reflected in his eyes like daggers, blinding him and making him look hollowed and mesmerised. This is just too indulgent.
It’s hard to equate Coppola with this film; here is the director who brought us ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘The Godfather’.
I suppose everyone has their off days. ‘Tetro’ was certainly his!