The Coppola mythos has become an undue burden — not every new film by the vintner can revive the dream of great popular cinema from the days of The Godfather. But grandeur isn't wholly to be found in our expectations: as his new film reminds us, Coppola is ever ready to shoot for the moon with outsized visions and surging temperaments that don't necessarily add up to emotionally engaging filmmaking. Shot in a pellucid but flat black-and-white, Tetro is a kind of art-house soap saga about clashing brothers, artistic turmoil, the long arm of Oedipal entanglements and treacherous Argentine crosswalks.
Aimless young Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) crashes with his storied artist family's estranged older brother, blocked writer Tetro (Vincent Gallo), who lives in backlot Buenos Aires. Drama, mostly shut into Tetro's apartment (with girlfriend Miranda, played by Maribel Verdu) and other airy but artificial-feeling spaces, simmers through the younger sib's quiet goading and Tetro's cultivated mythology of resentment and realization.
But as Bennie provokes Tetro through involuntary collaborative writing, the tantrums and other incidents that ensue unfold as if in recitation, encompassing color flashbacks, Powell-Pressburger references and a dotty art scene. Gallo feels underused, Ehrenreich mostly photographs well and Coppola's original script makes the adaptation Youth Without Youth feel anchored. Like the family patriarch of the film improvising flourishes at the piano, Coppola can conjure up bits of movie magic, such as an ethereal car ride past mountains, but the ultimate grand gesture of success eludes him here.
Opens June 11