By anyone's estimation, it's a long time since Francis Ford Coppola was a force to be reckoned with in the film world. Regardless of the quality of later works, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather and The Godfather Pt. II are, at the very least, likely to remain important landmarks in American filmmaking. Coppola's first original screenplay since The Conversation, Tetro however proves to be a very personal commentary by the director on family, on influences and on the impulses that drive the artist to create, and represents a welcome return to form.
Filmed in Argentina, in beautifully luminous digital black-and-white 'scope photography, the story deals with seventeen year-old Bennie Tetrocini (Alden Ehrenreich), who has run away from a troubled family background, working on a cruise ship that has taken him to Buenos Aires where he hopes to meet and restart a relationship with his estranged elder brother Angelo (Vincent Gallo). Bennie has always looked up to his brother, but finding him in the bohemian La Boca district of the city, known now only as Tetro, he's disappointed not only that his brother doesn't want to have anything to do with Bennie or their family, but he has also given up his ambitions to be a writer. For Bennie, the stay in Buenos Aires proves nonetheless to be an eye-opening experience that sets him off on an exciting personal growth experience, opening up a number of potential new creative paths for the young man to follow, one of which he hopes will create a new bond with his brother.
The film itself serves similarly as a commentary on the primary influences that would drive Coppola himself to be a film director - family, music, theatre, the films of Powell & Pressberger - while also opening up potential new directions, even at this stage in his career. Even those aforementioned flawed later films of Coppola - Rumble Fish, One From The Heart - can be reevaluated here in the light of those influences and seen for the more personal elements and ambitions that the director was aiming for in their sense of heightened reality bordering on fantasy, but that arguably they perhaps never quite reached. Tetro could be seen as having the same failings, the film over-ambitiously taking its storyline and its characters to extreme lengths that border on melodrama and fantasy, but within this lies the heart of Francis Ford Coppola. Tetro demonstrates all the qualities that are uniquely Coppola, and it's an impressive reminder that he remains one of the most important and innovative filmmakers in America today.