Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tetro: Grade B


Tetro (2009)

Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdú; Writer and Director Francis Ford Coppola. (English, Spanish, French; subtitled).

A young Italian man working on a cruise ship (Ehernreich) looks up his long-lost brother in Buenos Aires (Gallo), but finds a self-centered, embittered person who does not take kindly to him. Nevertheless, the young brother is invited by the girlfriend (Verdu) to stay with them and several conversations and reminiscences ensue. It is very slow moving by normal American movie standards. Nothing much happens but people talking.

However, the cinematography is stunningly gorgeous, 95% of it black and white, but even the few color scenes are extremely well shot. And Coppola’s eye is present throughout, such as when the brothers sit at a sidewalk café. The shot is from above, not quite vertical, as if you were watching from a high window on the other side of the street, the exact angle that was used when Marlon Brando got shot in The Godfather. This is no Godfather, though. There is no crime and no guns. This is just a couple of brothers talking.

Every shot in this movie could be framed and put in an art gallery, it’s that beautiful. A second highlight is the story’s focus on the obsessions of family, another theme from the Godfather, and from Italian families in general. Except here, the ins and out of family relationships are taken to a ludicrous extreme, and even dramatized by inserted scenes from Italian operas, to emphasize the point that this family obsession is really over the top. The final denoument reveals the “dark secret” of the brothers’ relationship. It’s highly improbable, even silly, perhaps an autobiographical self-parody by Coppola. But the images stick in your brain for days afterward, and that is the mark of a great movie.

On the down side, the acting is only average, and the music is interesting but unremarkable. For all the terrific cinematography, it is true that the lighting schemes get pretty monotonous. The favorite is strong light from 12 noon plus bright diffuse light from the side, often in situations where that would be literally impossible. The picture looks good unless you stop to think about how lighting like that could occur, and you realize it couldn’t, so that pops you out of the scene to admire the technical craft. That’s fun the first few times, but the lighting director on this picture was a one-trick pony. Overall though, this movie is worth seeing as an example of Coppola’s talent.

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