Tetro: Francis Ford Coppola's Great Big Hands
I believe Francis Ford Coppola's talents are best expressed when working on the social, the continental, the historical, rather than the personal. Apocalypse Now, the first two films in the Godfather sequence, The Cotton Club—these films, which are not about individuals but large movements of time and people, reveal a directorial power that can grasp the big picture, the Whitmanian "all" that determines the shapes and substance of singular experiences. Only big hands can grasp the large events of life. These big hands are useless when it comes to the situation we find in Tetro, which is a very, very personal film. The big fingers on the big hands pick up the little characters and accidentally squash them like peas. Coppola is a sad giant.
Tetro is about two brothers—the eldest of which is played by Vincent Gallo—and their oppressive but dying father, a famous conductor. The elder brother lives in Buenos Aires. He is a failed writer who has survived a terrible childhood and a complete mental breakdown. The movie begins when his younger brother (Alden Ehrenreich) pays him a surprise visit. The younger brother works on a cruise ship, has run away from his father, and wants to become a writer (not of novels but plays). The plot not only reveals a dark (but predictably Freudian) family secret but also the director's ideas about art—where it comes from, what it desires, how its desires are cruel. (Coppola has a very weak concept about the meaning and function of art.) The film's ending is bizarre, and one leaves the theater feeling that Coppola must stay away from subjects that involve a small circle of people. The more, the better. In his oeuvre, this film should be filed with Rumble Fish.