Francis Ford Coppolas Tetro is a dazzling mess. Its a gorgeously overwrought family melodrama that feels almost anachronistic in its bold idealistic flourishes, literary ambitions and flights of stylistic recklessness.

Recently realizing his lifelong dream of creative autonomy that famously, routinely bankrupted the auteur throughout the 70s and 80s, Coppola now earns such an absurd amount of money from his successful wineries that he can afford to fund and distribute whatever odd personal project happens to tickle his fancy. No more studio notes or second-guessing from jittery producersthe Godfather is his own operation.

At first this didnt seem like such a great idea, as his barmy philosophical 2007 head-scratcher Youth Without Youth was practically an argument for creative restrictions. But Tetro throbs with a sense of freedom, surging with an excess of emotion and daring.

Vincent Gallono stranger to self-financed half-mad experimentsstars as the title character, an arrogant literary prodigy who bristles in the long shadows cast by his legendary father, classical music superstar Carlo Tetrocini (Klaus Maria Brandauer.) After renouncing both his family and his given name (Angelo), the seethingly obnoxious Tetro has run off to Buenos Aires, where he pursues a dated Bohemian dream of esoteric cafe conversations and tortured-artist rudeness.

Tetro is doted on by his saintly girlfriend, Miranda ( Y Tu Mam Tambin s Maribel Verd, luminous as ever), who tends to excuse her beaus boorish behavior with hilariously sincere rationalizations: Hes a genius, but without accomplishments.

All this changes once Tetros estranged kid brother Bennie (Leonardo DiCaprio look-alike Alden Ehrenreich) turns up. A fresh-faced, 18-year-old virgin, Bennie has run away from military school hoping to reconnect with the long-lost sibling he so idolized as a child.

But there are some angsty family secrets that the elder Tetrocini would rather not face, and sooner or later the (disappointingly predicable) truths come gushing out in overheated, operatic fashion.

In both style and theme, Tetro calls to mind Coppolas out-there 1983 S.E. Hinton adaptation Rumble Fish , a similar tale of brotherly admiration, also photographed in sumptuous black and white. But Tetro s charms are even more of a retro throwback than the previous pictures greaser iconography.

This is an early-60s art-movie fantasia of youthful rebellion and wayward intellectualism, in which everybody longs to run away from the world and adult responsibility. Its about characters longing to live fast, die young and leave a beautiful body of work, especiallyonce Bennie stumbles upon Tetros unfinished bookhand-scrawled backward in an insane asylum, years ago. The kid aims to finish his big brothers great American novel, adapting it into a stage play, much to the delight of a highly influential literary critic named, pointedly, Alone (Carmen Maura).

The very notion of an influential critic is just one of Tetro s adorably ancient flourishes. The willfully bizarre movie kicks into overdrive once Alone stages a dramatic festival in the Patagonian mountains, and the Tetrocini family secrets spill amid these shimmering glaciers, surrounded by a Fellini-esque parade of grotesque faces and conspicuous opulence. Getting better as it goes along, Coppolas film abandons logic altogether at this point, and starts working at a spectacularly visual, emotive level.

Shot by Coppolas new right-hand man Mihai Maliamare Jr. in gobsmackingly beautiful high-contrast black and white digital video, Tetro is punctuated by faded color flashbacks that look a bit like aged Kodachrome picturesnot to mention a few misjudged brightly hued interludes in which interpretive dancers show up to dance the storys subtext.

Its a cuckoo idea, as is genius sound editor Juan Ferros decision to isolate all the dialogue and noises on their own hushed tracks, never using any ambient room tone to tie the scenes together.

This is a bizarre, goofy movie out on limbs and full of strange choices. But perhaps because of its craziness, Tetro is gloriously alive in all the ways Coppolas films havent been for a very long time indeed. It feels like, blessed with complete creative freedom and a new digital toolbox as a senior citizen, Francis Ford Coppola is starting from scratch.

Grade: B-

According to contactmusic.com, Coppola said of Gallo: When I cast him, everyone called me and told me, This guy is poison, dont work with him, do not involve him. I cast him and it turned out he was a fabulous guy.

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