Alden Ehrenreich, the best reason to see TETRO, with Maribel Verdu and Vincent Gallo, , the worst reason to see it
It’s been thirty years since Francis Ford Coppola last wrote an original screenplay and it certainly shows. In this Cain and Abel tale of two fractious brothers, Tetro (Vincent Gallo) and Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), set in Buenos Aires, everything which happens occurs at a certain remove from actual life. The fraternal conflict seems an empty, writerly conceit as does the backstory of the men’s abusive, scar-inducing conductor father (Klaus Maria Brandauer) who, himself, was ever at war with his own more successful brother (also played by Brandauer, a stale idea which doesn’t help matters).
Coppola has set the film in the Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires to which the impossible, willfully alienated writer Tetro has repaired with an attractive but unbelievably understanding doormat of a girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu), but even this rings false, at least from this writer’s own personal experience of this specific nabe. Although celebrated as one of those heart and soul areas of the city because of its deep connection to the country’s fanatical soccer culture, I found it a scarily raffish tourist hellhole, where one couldn’t enjoy an outdoor café without being constantly bothered by beggars and worse types. In TETRO, these same cafes are presented to be as idyllic as anything in Tuscany or the Cote D’Azur.
A major, seriously off-putting problem here is the casting of Vincent Gallo. The apperal of this self-declared Renaissance Man – actor/writer/designer/musician/etc./etc. – has always eluded me. His self written/directed/starring film, THE BROWN BUNNY, was an unwatchable, stultifying mess, culminating in that infamous scene in which – ever the Svengali with all-too susceptible nubiles – Gallo had poor Chloe Sevigny performing fellatio on him. (It was said afterwards that a penile prosthesis was used, which only revealed that even his shock value, like his vaunted talents, was bogus. Gallo possesses the glum look of a Biblical prophet which some may find attractive in a post-cool Byronic way, but his nasal whine of a voice and oh-so predictable neuroticism in his every film appearance merely repels far more than it attracts. (You really have to take the supposed brilliance of his Tetro purely on faith.) Sure, James Dean made a career out of being young, beautiful and misunderstood, but he had a real, innate charisma, brought inventiveness to Method acting and, cannily, died young and an instant legend.
American films have become so stupid, shallow and commercial that I’d hoped, with TETRO, Coppola, would resume the seigneurial mastery of the medium, which began to elude him after APOCALYPSE NOW, and, once more, make something akin to art. Mihai Malaimare’s poetically evocative black and white photography is TETRO’s only artful element, unfortunately, for the storyline is stale, laced with eccentric characters like a theatrical diva named “Alone,” played by Carmen Maura, who seems to have wandered in off a very lesser Almodovar project. (We know we’re in creatively impoverished terrain when a director resorts to campy cabaret sequences featuring “outrageous” cross-dressing performers plying absurdity as obvious padding to a thin exposition.) Baby-faced Ehrenreich has a natural, winning boyish appeal – like the very young DiCaprio, and does bring a modicum of freshness to the proceedings but Coppola, like daughter Sofia in LOST IN TRANSLATION, really needed to get out of himself and the rather privileged, claustrophobically arty cage he’s created in a fascinating new country – just as she did with Tokyo, although she never really got out of that 5-star hotel – and make a movie about real people dealing with real issues which would fully engage the viewer. Maybe he should just get out of that ivory tower of a California vineyard of his and really mix it up again with the hoi polloi to get some real human feeling going again.