Tetro expands on the buoyant sensations of writer-director Coppola’s origins-of-language love story, Youth Without Youth (2007), even as its twists and turns feel less spontaneous, more pro forma. This is a straight-hewn sins-of-the-father tale (a Coppola old reliable) that is at times dulled by its narrative inevitabilities. But it’s a small price to pay for the sight of a revivified artist expressing his lifelong obsessions with supreme control and confidence.
Coppola introduces Tetro (Gallo) gazing intently at an irradiant desk lamp, a sense-stirring bauble that attracts both his deer-in-the-headlights stare and an agitatedly buzzing moth. Sight and sound intermingle, as do past and present—whatever this self-exiled artist is remembering is more than vaguely unpleasant, yet complicated by memory’s haze. Tetro is hyperengaged with the tactile world around him, but he slowly comes to realize that there is little satisfaction and even less comfort to be had in the artistic and familial experiences that make up the crux of the film’s story. This is an awareness that Coppola himself has attained, having had his fair share of peaks and valleys in both life and career. Tetro is the work of a man who has gone over the proverbial edge and lived to tell about it.