Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola)

Tetro 'looking at the lights'.

Mr. Coppola. Once created cinematic juggernauts that is "The Godfather" series. Explored unrelenting paranoia in "The Conversation". Endured nightmares, tensions and existential questions in the Philippines, and splattered goth and color into Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Yes, it's just like looking back into Francis Ford Coppola's 'more than impressive' resume, but I just can't help but do that as I watch "Tetro", a film bringing Coppola's vision into the smaller confines of the art house scene, the uninhibited territory of Spanish linguistics and arguably into a more complex landscape of filmmaking where far-reaching scope is seldom a concern.

It stars Vincent Gallo, an actor who I think is just about as enigmatic and eccentric as the eponymous role he portrays, but may not be as restrained ("Brown Bunny?"). The film, like the opening sequence of "The Godfather", initially encapsulates the titular character with the same air of mystery and presence as that of Vito Corleone's cinematic introduction. We first see and feel Tetro not as an immediate character but merely as an idea. A lingering emotional attachment to its other important character, Bennie (well played by Alden Ehrenreich). A product of a past without a 'face'.

Though it may not be as noticed, I think director Coppola handled that brief scene perfectly, making us think that Bennie's visit to this 'brother' may not be an adequate idea as he thinks it is (highlighted by Tetro's harsh locking of his door). And though strengthened by a letter sent by his brother, Bennie's visit is still an unsure quest towards the unknown, into a brother who has also tread the same; a brooding but hopeful reverberation of a bond seemingly forgotten by time.

While I'm watching the film, one of the many things that I can think about is that it's quite reminiscent of Federico Fellini with its 'La Strada-like' utilization of carnivalesque characters littered around its central emotional arc. I'm not saying that Coppola, with all his aspirations to create a film he preferred to be remembered more in the European film scene, indirectly channeled and imitated Fellini. May be it's just the fact that in creating a deeply 'personal' film (he mentioned that it is), one can't help but grab the enduring roots of perennial cinematic artists like the aforementioned one above, a director also known for extracting emotions from his personal recesses for his more passionate projects to enhance the idea that the film was conceived, shot, and edited with the eyes on the camera's lens and hands pressed somewhere in the heart.

"Tetro" isn't just about the cliched concept of 'brotherly love', it's also about naivety at its most brutal misplacement and emptiness completely out of sync with what could have really been. And to say that Tetro's self-exile from his family is nothing but a bitter exaggeration is an insight out of context. I personally think that it was justifiable.

'Control' may also have something to do with it. With Tetro not having any with his life because of his father's egocentric authority, he looks for some place where he can. Then along came Bennie, his brother with the same sentiments but armed with much more urgency to answer questions of his own.

One chose to separate himself from his family, another is on a quest to know it more, and with the masterful and experienced craftsmanship of Francis Ford Coppola, the film has been rather successful in its polarizing portrayal of the two-sided truths and consequences of 'familial alienation' and an uncommon insight into an alternative reality of patriarchal flaws .

A self-produced film that is also an endlessly intriguing narrative exercise enhanced by unorthodox filmmaking. Coppola, with the creation of this independent gem shown in relative obscurity, really heeded the film's most significant line: "Don't look into the light". In his case, the blindingly bright lights of mainstream, that is.


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