If you’re anything like me, when you see that a filmmaker has put their name in the title of a movie that was not widely released, your “Pretentious Dreck Ahead” alarm probably starts ringing like the government scandal bell in major press outlets this past week. That said, I wanted a few hours away from that, and as I was looking through my DVDs, this seemed like it might be just the diversion I was looking for.
The movie opens with Benjamin, played by Alden Einreich walking through the streets of Buenos Aries late at night, trying to find the apartment of his older brother, Angelo, played by Vincent Gallo. When he gets there, he is greeted by Angelo’s girlfriend, Miranda, played by Maribel Verdu, who sets him up on the couch.
As the movie unfolds, we learn that Angelo, who now goes by the name “Tetro”, left New York a decade earlier to go on a writing sabbatical, and never returned, despite promises to his little brother Bennie to do so. Tetro seems to accept Bennie’s presence, as it will only be five days before the cruise ship Bennie works on will repair its engines, and continue on its way, but he clearly doesn’t want to answer any of Bennie’s questions about the past, about his new life, or much of anything. He forbids Bennie from telling anyone who their father really is, and makes it clear that family shouldn’t be a topic of discussion with anyone. He almost grudgingly lets his little brother tag along as he lives the life of a frustrated artist, but won’t even introduce Bennie to his friends as his brother, something that clearly frustrates Bennie.
As the five days pass, Tetro seems to be warming to having Bennie around, and even throws Bennie a party for his 18th birthday, attended by Tetro’s theatre friends. During this same time, Bennie and Miranda come to know one another, and slowly tease information out of each other about the mysterious Tetro from each other. As the two exchange information, and Bennie “accidentally” finds his brother’s manuscript, we are treated to flashbacks, set apart from the rest of the film because they are in color, and frame-in-frame, in which we see that their father, played by Klaus Maria Brandauer, a world-famous symphonic conductor, alienates his older brother, steals away 20-year-old Angelo’s girlfriend, and remains distant after a car accident in which Angelo was driving takes the life of his mother, and his father’s first wife. Miranda finally comes to better understand the man she met in an asylum, and has only understood in pieces.
As fate conspires to keep Bennie in Buenos Aries, Miranda makes sure that Bennie can continue to read the manuscript, and is caught by Tetro doing so. He naturally feels betrayed, and it immediately cools their rekindled friendship. Bennie compounds this betrayal, believing that he is helping his brother, ratcheting things up to 11, and leading to the climax in which Tetro has to admit a terrible secret to Bennie, who learns that everything he’s ever known is a lie.
I enjoyed ‘Tetro’, but to be honest, I needed some time to come to that conclusion, which is probably why it was never widely released. And while it isn’t the first film that I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about after watching, unlike Watchmen, or Defiance, I’m not likely to watch it again, because the journey of discovery is the story, and I don’t think it could ever have the same impact now that I know the real secret of the story. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth telling, and I’m glad that Coppola got the chance to tell it beautifully.