Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tetro” (2009)

TETRO (2009)

One of the plays within the play of TETRO (2009) [image via the Online-Inquirer blog].

The Bottom Line: Coppola delivers a complex, semi-autobiographical story of an artistic family’s secrets and multi-generational rivalries in a film with the cinematography that movie buffs have come to expect from his movies.

FRISCO KID’s rating: 4 stars

TETRO (2009)

TETRO (2009)

Production: Francis Ford Coppola and Valerio De Paolis

Direction: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola and Mauricio Kartun (“Fausta”)

Starring:  Vincent GalloAlden EhrenreichMaribel Verdú

Plot Summary: Bennie (Ehrenreich) and Tetro (Gallo) are the sons of a celebrated symphony orchestra conductor, Carlo Tetrocini (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who became famous after moving from Buenos Aires to the United States. The two brothers have not seen each other in a long time. When Bennie was just a boy, Tetro (his much older brother) left the family and went to Buenos Aires on a writing sabbatical from which he never returned. Due to intense rivalry with his father, Tetro cut ties with the family, but subsequently developed psychological problems that rendered him unable to complete the play he had been writing about his relationship with his father.

Years later, Bennie unexpectedly shows up at Tetro’s apartment, where he has been living with Miranda (Verdú), his former therapist. It is the week of Bennie’s eighteenth birthday. Since running away from military school, Bennie has been working as a waiter on a cruise ship, which is temporarily stranded in the harbor at Buenos Aires until its engine is repaired. He has many questions which Tetro, whom Bennie idolizes, does not want to address — in particular, about Tetro’s writing and about their family. Then Bennie finds the manuscript of Tetro’s unfinished play. What will he do with the manuscript?  Will he be able to reconcile with Tetro and sort out the mysteries of their family’s secrets?

Commentary: This film is much more complex than the plot summary indicates. Further details, however, would lead to spoilers. It is certainly a story about the complexity of family dynamics, particularly Oedipal father-son conflicts and fraternal rivalry. For example, when young Tetro (whose given name is Angelo) tells his father that he wants to be a novelist, Carlo tells him that there can be only one genius in a family. This film is also full of family secrets, indeed secrets within secrets. Its play-within-a play-motif, therefore, is very appropriate. The story also addresses the relationship of artistic productivity and mental illness, employing the image of a moth attracted to a light bulb. This image appears in the opening scene and recurs throughout the movie. The problematic interactions among artists, their mentors, and critics are also explored through the character of Alone (Carmen Maura). There is also a coming-of-age subplot involving Bennie. Filmed in Argentina and Spain, the cinematography is particularly breathtaking in the scenes set in Patagonia.

Film Facts (from IMDB):

  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Runtime: 127 minutes
  • Sound Mix: Dolby Digital
  • Color: Black and White | Color
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1