In some of the greatest films of all time, Oscar winning writer/director Francis Ford Coppola has trafficked in nuance, in ambiguity, in shades of gray. By comparison, his next film, “Tetro,” is going to seem a little black and white — literally.
“It will be in black and white,” Coppola revealed of the flick, set to being shooting soon in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “[Although] there are sequences, interestingly enough, that are inspired by ‘Tales of Hoffman’ and ‘The Red Shoes’ — and those will be in Technicolor.”
It’s a combination of styles that seems to fit perfectly with Coppola’s “semi-autobiographical vision,” half remembered with stunning vibrancy, half with the washed-out clarity of an old home movie. But while “Tetro” is based, at least in part, on Coppola’s own childhood, it would be a mistake to think of it as anything resembling nonfiction, the director insisted.
“It’s written out of memories and elements of my own life,” he said. “But it’s not [strictly] autobiographical. I’m fictionalizing things from my very early life. The father in ‘Tetro’ is a monster, and my father was the most wonderful man. Sometimes I took two or three relatives and combined them; so I’ve made a fiction piece more like a Tennessee Williams play.”
That would be plays like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and especially “The Glass Menagerie,” where family conflicts are blown up to explore interpersonal demons. “Tetro” will be rife with those sorts of dynamics, Coppola said.
“It’s an interesting position to be inside a family with so many talented people,” he explained. (Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, and father, Carmine, have both won Oscars. His nephew is Nic Cage.) “To understand the dynamics, the way you idolize some of them, the competitions. Did this brother help that brother? ‘Tetro’ deals with personal themes that come out of my life — though not my life.”
One person, real or imagined, who won’t be joining Coppola in Buenos Aires — where the director is shooting because “that’s a place that had many Italian immigrants” — is Matt Dillon, long rumored to be attached to the project.
“Unfortunately the schedule got shifted and I missed the boat with Matt,” Coppola confessed. “He has to start his new film. That’s the one part that’s uncast. It is the part of Tetro.”
In the end, Coppola admits that his movie will be somewhat noncommercial — and that doesn’t worry him one bit.
“I’m spending my money,” he said. “These are movies that would never get past any sensible studio that I’m not making to make money.”