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Five-time Oscar-winning legend Francis Ford Coppola writes his first original screenplay in nearly 30 years for this arty black-and-white drama about siblings whose lives take very different courses. Eighteen-year-old Bennie returns to Buenos Aires after a decade-long absence in an attempt to reunite with his much older brother Tetro, a once-promising writer now living life on the fringes. But when he moves in with Tetro and his girlfriend, Miranda, he finds that his brother is not the great talent he thought but someone who has grown bitter, sad and complacent — a shadow of his former self. When Bennie discovers an unfinished play of Tetro's, he takes matters into his own hands, leading to revelations that affect their shared past and uncertain future.


Leading an international cast that also includes many fine Argentine stars is Vincent Gallo, an actor best-known as the director of the notorious flop, The Brown Bunny. Gallo is an unusual but winning choice to play Tetro's title role of a talented writer whose tortured past and stormy relationship with his father have paralyzed him creatively. Gallo's naturalistic acting style is unmannered and effective opposite that of newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who plays his naïve younger brother. A dead ringer for a young Leonardo DiCaprio, Ehrenriech is a real find, endowing this almost Shakespearean story with just the right touch of curious idealism. Spanish actress Maribel Verdu is an inviting presence as Tetro's understanding and long-suffering girlfriend, while the great Carmen Maura is a hoot as "Alone," the apparent goddess of all art in Argentina. Klaus Maria Brandauer (Out of Africa) appears in colorized flashbacks as Tetro's domineering father, an acclaimed symphony conductor.


Coppola, now 70, has gone back to his roots as an independent filmmaker. Though this Godfather of new-age cinema didn't hit paydirt with last year's incomprehensible Youth Without Youth, this spare, black-and-white drama is much more accessible and intriguing. Tetro is a gorgeously photographed and beautifully lit art film that elicits fine performances from a varied and impressive group of talented performers.


The esoteric, European flavor of the film may turn off some audiences, but so what? There are also scenes that go a little too far over the top — particularly those set in the small theater where the plays are performed. The scenes border a little too much on parody to fit in comfortably with the central tale of two brothers separated by years and miles.


Just for the increasingly rare opportunity of seeing a widescreen, black-and-white movie in a theater, try to find it at a multiplex. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening outside the big cities are remote for this self-distributed Coppola fantasia. rated this film 3 stars.