DVD of the Week – Review of Tetro (2009)


Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most famous and greatest of living directors, but strangely he hasn’t written an original screenplay since his Oscar winning film The Conversation (1974). With Tetro, Coppola goes back to his roots of being an “original” director and, as expected the film is gorgeously shot.

Vincent Gallo stars as the title character, who changed his name to Tetro from Angelo in a bout of defying his father. We meet Tetro through his younger brother Bennie (newcomer Alden Ehrenreich), who visits Tetro in Buenos Aires and also meets his beautiful girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdú). Tetro was a poet before and during a supposed mental breakdown and had met Miranda at the mental asylum she’d worked in. His family history is hidden from Bennie because Tetro believes that it’s best for Bennie to not know too much about his father. When Bennie finds Tetro’s hidden, written-in-code notes for a semi-autobiographical screenplay/stage play, he secretly deciphers and types them up as a completed screenplay. Brotherly rivalries abound but Tetro has been keeping secrets from Bennie for a very good reason.

Apparently, a lot the characteristics and some of the background situations revealed in the family mystery, that unfolds in flashback sequences are based on members of Coppola’s family, directly his father and grandfather. It’s a personal movie for him and so we can feel authenticity in the relationship between Bennie and Tetro.

Coppola’s presentation is shot in the digital medium but in gorgeous black and white. Every shot is beautiful to look at, with fantastic cinematography, and it feels like a 1960s Italian film; sometimes even a Fellini film. It was entirely shot on location in Buenos Aires and feels very romanticized because Buenos Aires looks and feels like a dream. The cobbled streets, the stone buildings, and the Jazzy/Latino soundtrack make this film an atmospheric and nostalgic dream-like drama that contains good, naturalistic performances. Also, there are sequences of flashback that are presented in color and in forms of ballet and operas. They are beautiful to watch and listen to and yet, still not as gorgeous as the black and white aspects of the cinematography.

The DVD and Blu-ray come with a commentary track featuring Francis Ford Coppola and the young star Alden Ehrenreich. The short features are The Rehearsal Process: Documenting Coppola’s extensive preparation with the cast, Fausta: A Drama in Verse: Extended version of the play featured within the movie, Mihai Malaimare, Jr: The cinematography, The Ballet: A look at the film’s choreography and the use of dance in the film, Osvaldo Golijov: Music born from the film, and La Colifata: Siempre Fui Loco: A behind-the-scenes look at the taping of Tetro at La Colifata.

Other new releases this week: Leap Year, Tooth Fairy, Nine

8 responses to “DVD of the Week – Review of Tetro (2009)

  1. Richard Winters

    You should see “You’re a Big Boy Now” one of Coppola’s first films that he wrote and directed. It is very wacky and offbeat and different from anything else he has ever done. However, I found it to be funny and inventive and I like it. It also marks the film debut of actress Karen Black. Watch it and let me know what you think.

  2. Karen Black from “Five Easy Pieces”?

    • Richard Winters

      Yes, you may not recognize her at first because she looks pretty young. ‘Five Easy Pieces’ is another favorite film of mine.

  3. It’s a personal favourite of mine, as well; it sports my fave Jack Nicholson performance and character. Then there’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and then “The Shinning”.
    Brilliant directors, brilliant screenplays, and brilliant actors.

    • Richard Winters

      If you like Nicholson then I would suggest seeing ‘King of the Marvin Gardens’ as well. It is a very unusual performance for him. He plays this very subdued almost nerdy type of character who represses all of his emotions. You also get a chance to see Ellen Burstyn going totally nutso.

  4. I remember that movie. It’s from the director “Five Easy Pieces”, Bob Rafelson but nowhere near as good as FEP.

  5. Outside your review you described Tetro to me as “melancholy.” That really captures the mood of the piece perfectly.

    Coppola’s filmmaking here is sometimes self-indulgent, but always filled with conviction. The aspect of the film I liked best was the black and white cinematography, especially the way it rendered Buenos Aires- as it was experienced by the characters- as a place somehow outside time. I remember feeling surprise when it became clear the film was set in the present and not some indeterminate time in the 1950s/1960s.

  6. I know! It really feels like a melancholy Fellini film, like “La Dolce Vita”.


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