Tetro (2009)

The Brothers Gloom

When 17-year-old Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) arrives in Buenos Aires in search of his long lost brother, he is surprised to find that the man he remembers as a passionate, creative writer now cuts a melancholy and isolated figure who has re-christened himself Tetro (Vincent Gallo). Although Tetro’s girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu) welcomes Bennie with open arms, Tetro is less than pleased to have his sibling back in his life. As Bennie digs deeper into why Tetro left the family, it becomes clear that there are painful secrets buried in their shared past. And when Bennie finds, and decides to finish, Tetro’s deeply personal play, their relationship takes a turn from which there may be no coming back.

Shot in monochromatic black and white, with shots of colour used in flashbacks and fantasy sequences, Francis Ford Coppola’s  film – which also boasts his first full length original screenplay since 1974’s The Conversation – is an absolute pleasure to watch. That’s because it’s a pitch-perfect homage to Coppola’s heroes; from the opening scene where Bennie walks through the sultry late night streets in a navy uniform-it turns out he’s a ship’s waiter-Tetro is reminiscent of the great films of Fellini, Kazan et al.  And director of photography Mihai Malaimare Jr’s visuals are absolutely exquisite throughout; shadows and light play against each other as the narrative slowly reveals itself, reflections dancing over the eyes of characters a recurring motif throughout. It’s a symbol of secrets coming to the fore, as well as a past tragedy that continues to haunt Tetro, that’s beautiful as well as poignant. And the sequences shot in colour pop in contrast; they are Technicolor dreamscapes of Powell and Pressbuger proportions and add an extra dimension to both the visuals and the story.

But as much as Tetro is stunning to look at, it’s equally as involving. This simple family drama is gripping from the start, thanks to some outstanding performances. Gallo, with his inherent intensity, is perfectly cast as the tortured Tetro with stunning Spanish actress Verdu being utterly charming as his eternally upbeat and devoted partner. But it’s Ehrenreich who is the real revelation here, showcasing a natural talent in his debut role that is rare even in seasoned veterans of the screen. They are supported by a cast of characters who are vibrant and colourful despite appearing in black and white, including Klaus Maria Brandauer as Tetro’s villainous conductor father Carlos.

Deeply personal yet utterly accessible, and with moments of laugh out loud humour mixed in with the Tennessee Williams-esque  tension, Tetro is romanticism, comedy and drama wrapped up in one utterly sublime package.

5 stars

This review was originally published in movieScope 17, out now!

Stars Vincent Gallo,
Alden Ehrenreich
Director & Screenplay Francis Ford Coppola
Certificate 15
Distributor Soda Pictures
Running Time 2hrs 7mins
Opens June 25