"You can't look at the light. Don't look at the light"
As I stare into the black light of my computer screen after watching Coppola’s Tetro I again find myself at a loss for words (I seem to choose films for these write ups that leave me speechless). However once again I’ve chosen a film that floods my mind with a barrage of reasons to turn you on to this recent masterwork from a proven master of cinema. While the film is story of the dysfunction and rivalry that resides at the core of family, the film unfolds like the petals of a blooming flower. With each moment and each line of dialogue Coppola is strategically dropping puzzle pieces that work together to scoot your rear to the edge of its seat.
The film begins with a series of artfully blurred lights, the starkly contrasted black and white photography brilliantly immersing the viewer in the world in which we are about to spend the next two hours. Out of the sound of moth wings beating toward and against an electric flame we meet our first character, Bennie. The story then proceeds as we follow Bennie arriving at his brother, Tetro’s (Vincent Gallo), house in Buenos Aries. After a brief time with Tetro’s wife Miranda (Maribel Verdú) and a cold closed door from his brother, Bennie lays on the couch and pulls out a well worn letter from his brother Angelo (Tetro’s name from another life) and the scene fades as he falls into a tearful sleep. With a door slam in the morning Gallo brings Tetro to life with cold nonchalance and a volley of brotherly wit and sarcasm as the journey of familial discovery begins. To attempt to boil the plot down for you would be a tad asinine; instead I feel I can only allude to the virtuosity of this film’s Shakespearian plot.
Aside from the maze of story luminously woven together to create a nearly perfect tale the film is graced with fantastic acting that truly brings the narrative to life. Vincent Gallo brings his abrasively subtle style to yet another stunningly complex character (see also my review of Buffalo 66 which he wrote, directed and stared in). Newcomer Alden Ehrenreich kills it as the young naïve brother looking to find himself and the meaning behind his family’s turmoil. His playful demeanor and puppy-like exuberance develops throughout the film coming to a powerful and formative fruition in the end. The magnificent Maribel Verdú provides amazing support as the two immensely different brothers hurl through this tale of self-discovery. The entire cast is exceptional, however these three remain the rock upon which this film is firmly and captivatingly anchored.
Turning to the all-important and incandescent visuals, working with the relatively young cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (who also shot Coppola’s Youth Without Youth (2007) and Twixt (2011)) Coppola transports the viewer into a poetic black and white film noir fantasy. While the film is ambiguously set in modern times, there is no mistaking the beautiful light, shadow and reflective play that is most definitely an homage to the stark films of the fifties. There are a few flashbacks and surrealistic ballet sequences, which are all letterboxed and shot in rich nostalgic Technicolor. These scenes littering the aesthetic of vivid black and white photography serves to strengthen the entire look of the film.
Now to tear through all of the big words (which I felt necessary when talking about such a nuanced and meticulous film), this is truly one of the most beautiful and intriguing stories about family I’ve seen in a long while. The acting is spectacular, the story is complex and consistently compelling, and the images are simply stunning. I don’t know how else to put it – this film is flat out rad in every important category in which I can assess it. Why should you buy it? You really need to have this movie in your possession, you need to watch it, re-watch it with others, put it away and re-discover it later (as I just did this evening), I’ve tried hard to convince you without giving away any of the twists and turns of the narrative and now I believe that it’s time for you to turn down the lights pop in the DVD and see for yourself. If you need any further convincing feel free to find me here at Twist or head over to the Sie Film Center and ask Will (who occasionally writes for this movie blog) as he and I were both drooling over the prospect of writing about this film.
- Edward Hill