In Francis Ford Coppola's first original screenplay since 1974's The Conversation, he tells a bittersweet tale of the secrets that haunt a highly creative family. Fresh-faced and naive, 17-year-old Bennie arrives in Buenos Aires to search for his older brother, Tetro, a volatile and melancholy poet who has tried to leave his family behind. But their reunion is not what either expects, as the two brothers grapple with the unsettling experiences of their shared past.
Even assuming one agrees that Tetro is Francis Ford Coppola's "best since Apocalypse Now," as one pundit put it, that's not saying a whole lot--the three decades since the latter film, the culmination of a decade (the 1970s) in which Coppola also turned out the first two Godfather chapters and The Conversation, haven't exactly witnessed an unbroken string of artistic and commercial triumphs for the director-writer-producer. Still, Tetro, a breathtakingly gorgeous film addressing such timeless themes as dark family secrets and father-son rivalries, has a great deal going for it. As the story begins, soon-to-be 18-year-old Bennie Tetrocini (Alden Ehrenreich) finds himself in Buenos Aires, where the cruise ship on which he works has stopped for repairs. As it happens, that's also where his half-brother Angelo (Vincent Gallo), who now calls himself Tetro, lives with his smart, pretty girlfriend, Miranda (Maribel Verdu). But when Bennie appears at the couple's apartment, his reception isn't exactly warm and fuzzy. Tetro, an unfulfilled writer (he's "a genius without enough accomplishments," says Miranda), is an angry, bitter fellow who has long since ceased all contact with his family, admonishing his sibling that "in our family, love is a quick stab in the heart." Most of his rage is directed toward his father (Klaus Maria Brandauer, seen only in flashback), a world-famous symphony conductor and a profoundly conceited, cruel man, but there's more--much more, and as Tetro grudgingly lets Bennie into his life, shocking incidents and revelations of many long-hidden truths ensue. Most of this is presented in luminous black and white (the flashbacks are in color), courtesy of cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.; the film is wonderful to look at, and Coppola's sure hand behind the camera combines with evocative music, the richness of the setting, and some excellent acting to make Tetro a vivid and rewarding viewing experience. Copious bonus material includes a director's commentary track and a clutch of featurettes. --Sam Graham