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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Tetro

May 4th, 2010

Tetro - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Francis Ford Coppola could have stopped directing in 1979 and he would have still been considered one of the greatest directors of all time having made Apocalypse Now and the first two Godfather movies. Had he not made another movie after 1979, many moviegoers would say his body of work ranked among the best. And since 1979, he's made a number of very good films; however, he hasn't had a wide release in more than a decade (since The Rainmaker came out). I'm not counting Supernova since he was brought in by the studio to re-edit Walter Hill's work. Despite earning excellent reviews, it wasn't able to live up to expectations at the box office. In fact, it has been a long, long time since a Francis Ford Coppola film has truly lived up to expectations at the box office. So much so that one begins to wonder if he's lost his touch. Perhaps with Tetro he's on his way back.

As the film begins we follow a man, Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), in what looks like a naval uniform as he travels the streets of Buenos Aries at night. When he arrives at his destination, the home of his brother, he finds his brother unwelcoming. His "sister-in-law", Miranda (Maribel VerdĂș), invites him to stay the night, but warns him that his brother is not happy he has come and wishes to not know his family anymore. She's not kidding.

The next morning his brother, Tetro, formally known as Angie (Vincent Gallo) tells his brother in no uncertain terms that he's only welcome to stay till his ship is ready to sail, and that's only to placate his girlfriend. In the meantime he doesn't even want his friends to know they are brothers and he certainly doesn't want to talk about his family or his past, two things he's run away form. While Bennie tries to learn more about why Tetro left, we learn more about the pasts of these two men, including the past of their family.

And apparently the past is in color while the present is in black and white. ... And the past is smaller than the rest of the film.

It's the stylistic choices made by Francis Ford Coppola that make the movie stand out so much. This film has style to spare; even the emotional heart of the movie seems stylized rather than 100% authentic. This has had the effect of turning off some people and the film only earned mostly positive reviews. Some of the acting is excellent, although Vincent Gallo is a little one-dimensional as the insufferable prick. (A lot of this has to do with how the character is written, but I'm not discounting the possibility that it's just Gallo's personality.) On the other hand, this could be a career making performance for Alden Ehrenreich (Somewhere will go a long way in helping determine that) while Maribel VerdĂș is also fantastic. Some of the supporting characters lack subtly, but overall they help create a world that is at the very least theatrical.

Overall it is worth checking out, but its target audience is narrow enough, and hard enough to nail down, that I would recommend starting with a rental.

Extras on the DVD are extensive, especially for a film than never expanded significantly beyond more than a dozen theaters. Firstly, there's an audio commentary track with Francis Ford Coppola and Alden Ehrenreich. The director dominates, but that's not surprising and the track is absolutely worth checking out. The wide selection of featurettes starts with The Ballet, which has a lot of behind-the-scene footage with narration from Francis Ford Coppola describing how he was inspired to write the scene and how it was made. Mihai Malaimare Jr.: The Cinematography of Tetro is an interview / behind-the-scenes featurette that focuses on the cinematography, hence the name. In The Rehearsal Process, Francis Ford Coppola and the cast talk about how the director used rehearsals, which is something Vincent Gallo opposes, so it is interesting to see the two men's conflicting approaches. Osvaldo Golijov: Music Born from the Film is another interview / behind-the-scenes featurette on the creation of the score. In the movie, there is a scene in an asylum where they use a radio program to help patients communicate. La Colifata: Siempre Fui Loco (I've Always Been Crazy) is a featurette about the real life program that inspired this scene and how Francis Ford Coppola used real life patients as part of the movie. Fausta: A Drama in Verse is the full version of the play that is seen in the movie. ... It's hideous, but you won't be able to look away. Finally, there's the complete end credits for the movie. In the theatrical version, the credits only include the cast, which apparently was the norm till THX 1138, but Coppola wanted to go back to a simpler time for the movie. However, he also wanted to give proper credit, which he does here.

In total, there's 40 minutes of featurettes, the play is four-and-a-half minutes, and the credits are three-and-a-half minutes. For a limited release, that's a good selection.

The Blu-ray has no additional extras, but all of the extras are presented in High Definition. Speaking of which...

The film was shot in High Definition on a digital camera, the same type that was used for The Phantom Menace, and in some scene the video is as crisp as you would expect given the source. In other scenes, there is so much grain it is distracting. Since the film was shot with a digital camera and edited digitally, the grain was added in post-production. Here's the thing, film grain is not something magical that happens when you shoot a movie. It's a flaw in the medium. It shouldn't be emulated because a lot of great movies were made with grainy filmstock any more than films today should be made in mono sound because that's how Casablanca was recorded.

Okay, enough of that rant. But seriously, filmmakers and aficionados need to stop romanticizing grain in film. I'm not saying you should use Digital Noise Reduction to get rid of it, because a lot of the time that works about as well as colorizing Black and White movies. But don't add it in to digitally shot movies unless there's a legitimate reason.

Legitimate reasons. Not style for style's sake, and certainly not because you think, 'That's how film is supposed to look.'

Okay, now my rant is over.

As for the audio, it is better than expected. This is a dialogue driven drama, so it comes as no surprise that the audio track is heavy on the front speakers. As expected, the dialogue is very clear; however, the surround speakers are more utilized than anticipated.

It is expensive compared to the DVD, 50% more expensive on, which is troubling.

The Verdict

Tetro is arguably Francis Ford Coppola's most personal film in since... well... perhaps ever. The family dynamic in this movie apparently is " inspired" by his family dynamic. Sometimes the style can get in the way of the story, but fans of the auteur will want to check it out and many who do will want to add the film to their collection. Despite a video transfers that shows the director's vision and an audio track that surprises, I'm unwilling to say the Blu-ray is worth 50% more than the DVD. That's a personal decision.

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Filed under: Video Review, Tetro