Saturday, September 12, 2009

Beautifully Brooding and Energetic

Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)

In Francis Ford Coppola's new film Tetro, two brothers, Tetro (Vincent Gallo), who leads a bohemian lifestyles waking up late, idylls at cafes and casually does the lights at a theate; and Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), who has been working on a crew-ship. They reunite in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to discuss their dismay paternal issues and mothers death while try to attribute all of these issues to a play they are writing. His screenplay, the first since "The Conversation" in 1974, drifts around recurring themes about brotherly obligations, love and ambivalence. The anguished artist Tetro is a celebration of angst and paralysis, he even is introduced with crutches, some scenes are not fully developed and fade to black before the action, while the eventual twist seems more as a surprise device then it fulfills any developmental purposes. But these criticisms aside the story rings of personal truth and the autobiographical elements make attributing these characters to their Coppola counterparts one part of its many charms.

The theme of family pressure on outstanding individuals, Tetro is referred to as once being a genius, can be seen as the pressure’s that motivated Mr.Coppola into creating his 21st feature. Tetro debates about what is the good of a work of art and the corrupting gaze of the both the media and the critics. One touching examples of this is when Tetro, not wanting to attend a festival that is putting on his new play “Wander Lust”, talks to Miranda about the superficialities of success and about sharing his happiness with her. While later he talks to his brother Bennie about bringing up memories and experiences out in the creative process as a way to come to terms with distressing events. Finally he eschews the important South-American critic Alone (Carmen Maura) who after a failing publicity stunt cuts out the lights and cameras and walks away unfazed.

The film is a new arc in Mr. Coppola career, with Youth Without Youth in 2007, full of late style and artistic renewal. It’s ostensible characters; Bennie is 17, Tetro looks like he is in his 30s, his gorgeous wife Miranda (Maribel Verdú), and a myriad of colorful characters are all full of life and bustling with energy. Fully taking advantage of their physiques there are some stark nude scenes between Tetro and Miranda where just her curves are illuminated, and there is a hedonistic threesome in a bubble bath between Bennie and his two leading ladies. The frame is beautifully put together focusing on picaresque diversions including drinking coffee, folding clothes, watching neighboring strangers on the street, playing with a puppy, hanging out in apartments, and being at a theater. Broken up long scenes might at first be distracting but as it progresses it achieves an originality of its own. Shot in widescreen black and white by Mihai Malaimare Jr. the film beautifully exposes a variety of interesting local sights including the neighboring urban space outside of and inside Tetro’s cosmopolitan apartment, a waterside scene of the large crew ship Bennie debarked off of, and on a road trip passing by the Patagonian mountains. Throughout extended moments of silence the films score by Walter Murch comes in with its hypnotizing sweeps.

There are short interludes, which create very energizing filmmaking. To expand on episodes and emotions there are short theatrical choreographed dance sequence shot in color, as are the flashbacks, that perfectly utilizes bright colors for expressive emotional effects with an angelic hymn with what sounds like fluttering wing flapping. It has a hypnotizing effect. The dance hall sequences aesthetic hawks back to the opera stage performances of The Godfather: Part III and further to the original Italian cinemeastro Federico Fellini whose music hall sequences were a key element in defining this style in such films as Nights of Cabiria and Amarcord.

When the two brothers discuss, Bennie brings up how he really enjoyed as a child when Tetro exposed him to Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann. A dance sequence from the film is inserted and is later reiterated surreally by Mr.Copola with floating clocks, body parts, pigments, etc. To demonstrate the cathartic capacities dance can have. There are two indelible scenes witch focus on a women dancing. A flashback where Tetro's father Carlo Tetrocini (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a famous conductor, steals his own son’s girlfriend from him and gets her to give him a dance at a dinner surrounded by all of Tetro's friends, and later when Miranda who is in her spandex one-piece workout suit after a few simple stretches starts to dance for Bennie and then gets an insulting screaming when Tetro shortly gets home. This moment of jealousy is only of the many reverberating themes that arises and dissipates throughout the film which makes this a work of vast complexities and richness.-David Davidson

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 11/09 - 15/09)

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