Sunday, 11 July 2010

tetro (d coppola)

These are the dog days of Summer. As can be gleaned by the amount of cultural activity being undertaken. It feels a bit like an inverted hibernation. Football, travel and the vagaries of life have taken over, as the sun toasts us all on a daily basis.

In between World Cup matches, I took up the offer of a trip to see Coppola's latest, supposedly low budget offering. It's over a fortnight now since I saw it. Although it's not his first, the idea of Coppola doing a low budget film seems something of a contradiction in terms. Clearly he thought so too, because, after managing to keep the lid on the budget in the first half, the second descends into hints of extravagance. Both budgetary and thematically, as the characters suddenly find themselves at a gaudy, not very Patagonian arts festival, where Vincent Gallo's terrible play is hailed as a masterpiece. Suddenly, an intriguing film is thrown off-kilter, as though the director lost patience with having to scrimp: two frugal acts are followed by a splurge of a desert, a would-be low budget knickerbocker glory added to the menu at the last moment.

It's a pity, because the premise and opening acts are engaging. No matter how limited his resources, Coppola still has friends in the right places, and the black and white photography of Buenos Aires is beguiling. The set up of a rich man's son (Gallo) who's run away to the South to escape his father's grip, has sufficient weight to keep the audience engaged. The use of Buenos Aires as a counterpoint to New York is also astute; BA being the other great city of destination for Italians fleeing poverty in the early 20th Century. The Argentine and US cast works together more effectively than has been the case in similar cross-cultural endeavours.

All in all there's enough to make the film work. Until the script founders on the notion that Gallo's scrawls actually hide a demonic literary genius; and then his novel becomes a play; and that play is performed at the ludicrously posh Ushaia literary festival, and Gallo isn't his brother's brother, and it all becomes Oedipal and relentlessly silly. Leading to the implication that, no matter how much he'd like to be, Coppola wasn't born to make low-budget movies. He doesn't possess the discipline, he needs the adrenaline of the potential of catastrophic failure in order to provoke him into producing work which doesn't drown in whimsy.

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