Francis Ford Coppola is an odd duck. Insofar as he has the same type of name recognition and public persona as Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg and many other directors of his generation, one tends to think of him as being the same type of auteur. But while Coppola is responsible for landmark films like the "Godfather" trilogy and "Apocalypse Now," he's also responsible for "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Jack."
While some would see him as merely uneven or unwise in his project selection, his new movie, "Tetro" gives the impression Coppola simply doesn't give a toss about stylistic or thematic integrity. He does whatever he feels like doing at the time. Popularity " critical, commercial or otherwise " doesn't enter into it.
The film screens Friday through Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art alongside his 1974 thriller, "The Conversation." Coppola will appear from Paris via Skype to discuss both after Sunday's screenings.
"Tetro," which is supposedly semi-autobiographical, explores family relationships and secrets, and the way that exposing them causes the sort of strife that is ultimately healthy and constructive, if painful.
Bennie (relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich), just shy of 18, is working on a cruise ship. When the ship breaks down in Buenos Aires, he wanders ashore seeking his long-absent brother, Angelo (Vincent Gallo, "The Brown Bunny"). He finds Angelo with a broken leg and in a bad mood, living in an apartment with his girlfriend, Miranda (Maribel Verdu, "Pan's Labyrinth"). In short order, Angelo lets Bennie know that "Angelo" is dead, and now his name is Tetro. Bennie doesn't understand Tetro's mood or reticence, but he idolizes him and wants to mine him for information about their family, which he doesn't know much about.
During his stay, Bennie pieces together clues about where his brother has been for the last several years. Most of it centers on their father (Klaus Maria Brandauer, "Out of Africa"), a famous orchestra conductor who was so jealous of his fame and status that Tetro has disowned and reinvented his identity in Buenos Aires, where no one knows or cares about his history. This is what makes him unkind toward Bennie, who represents a living link to the past Tetro wants to escape.
"Tetro" is shot largely in black and white, apparently in homage to Coppola's own "Rumble Fish," from 1983, which also featured a brothers-and-fathers theme. Bennie plays Rusty James to Tetro's Motorcycle Boy, but the comparisons effectively end there. Where Mickey Rourke's Motorcycle Boy projected a certain menace, Gallo's Tetro is so vocal, he just comes off as irritable. As a result, the tension that builds between him and Bennie is ultimately a bit anticlimactic.
That's not to say "Tetro" isn't effective. It delivers a clear message about the negligible value of critical and commercial success as a source of artistic validation and the much more concrete and life-affirming value of good familial relationships. It's an arty, sometimes slow film, but Coppola delivers it like someone who truly cares about his project, whether anyone else does or not. "Mike Robertson