American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Tetro" may be the most autobiographical film Francis Ford Coppola has made. He said at Cannes "nothing in it happened, but it's all true." I guess I know what that means. He could be describing any "autobiographical" film or novel. The pitfall is in trying to find parallels: Coppola had a father who was a famous conductor, he has a brother he has sometimes argued with, his sister Talia Shire somewhat resembles the heroine of this film, his nephew Nicolas Cage somewhat resembles the character Tetro, and on and on. All meaningless.
Better to begin with a more promising starting point: The film is boldly operatic, involving family drama, secrets, generations at war, melodrama, romance and violence. I'm only guessing, but Coppola, considering his father and his Italian-American heritage, may be as opera-besotted as any living American director, including Scorsese. His great epic "Apocalypse Now" is fundamentally, gloriously, operatic. The oedipal issues in the "Godfather" trilogy are echoed again in "Tetro." The emotions are theatrical, not realistic.
For that, he has the right actor, Vincent Gallo, who devotes himself to the title role with heedless abandon. There is nothing subtle about his performance, and nothing should be. He plays the son of a famous conductor, he lives in exile in Buenos Aries, he has a lover who loyally endures his impossibilities. There are events in his past that damaged him, and he is unhappy that his younger brother, Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), knocks unexpectedly at the door. He never wanted to see him again.
Miranda (Maribel Verdu), Tetro's girlfriend, welcomes the young man, who works as a waiter on a cruise ship now in port for repairs. She wishes she knew more about Tetro's family and the reasons for his unhappiness. Tetro is uniformly hostile to almost everyone, except Miranda, perhaps because he needs at least one person to speak with. Bennie bunks down in their apartment, is kept an arm's length from Tetro, is left alone in the flat, finds an unfinished play by Tetro, finishes it and submits it to a festival run by the nation's most powerful critic, Alone (Carmen Maura). Argentina here is a nation that still has a powerful critic.