Year: 2009
Production Co: American Zoetrope
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writer: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdé

It's been interesting to follow Francis Ford Coppola's career in the modern era, long after the success of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now are behind him. He's doing what his contemporary George Lucas always said he wanted to do when he left Star Wars behind – go back to small, independent and arthouse movies like THX1138.

But instead of rubber-stamping one ridiculous idea for his multimedia-spanning empire after another like Lucas (before selling off to Disney for enough money to buy a small country), Coppola's actually doing small personal movies.

The results are kind of mixed – a simple domestic drama, Tetro doesn't have anywhere near the profound gravity of the work from his heyday. A young man named Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) arrives in Buenos Aires while on leave from working on a cruise ship and imposes himself on his long lost brother Tetro (Vincent Gallo) and the latter's girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdú).

Miranda is much happier to see Bennie than Tetro is – the latter a tortured writer suffering from a history of familial conflict. Bennie showing up just reminds him of the pain he endured at the hands of his over-critical musician father – a man who did everything from rubbish his career choice to steal his girlfriends - and he reluctantly lets his brother stay if he promises it's just for a few days.

But Bennie wants to connect with the brother he's never known and not really forgiven for leaving when he was little and doesn't want to go anywhere. He even sneaks into his brother's stuff to try and get to know him a little better, finding Tetro's most secret writings that detail his time under psychiatric care as a younger man and his efforts to write and stage a great play.

After the inevitable blow-up, Bennie leaves – with Tetro's play about the life he never knew. Bennie mounts the play himself, attracting the attention of a prestigious arts festival and its ice-queen founder. Tetro just wants everything to stay the way it was, but the truth Bennie is looking for will have to come out, and Tetro knows it'll hurt everybody.

The big twist is a little bit melodramatic, but the performances are good enough to make you invest in the people and feel what they're going through. Plenty of what goes on is a little self-indulgent, but Coppola's earned that after his storied career.

One of them is his love of South America, which he indulges by setting Tetro in the city of Buenos Aires and evoking a real, living place with its own customs and personality. I just can't work out why he did the whole thing in black and white and lost so much dimension.

If it had come from any other director it might be easily dismissed, but it's interesting to watch and wonder what a former giant in the industry saw in it.

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