After the world premiere of Tetro – the third screenplay he\'s written from scratch after The Rain People and The Conversation – Francis Ford Coppola was asked whether the seemingly quite personal project was also autobiographical. The two-time Palme d\'Or winner replied "Nothing in the story really happened, but everything is true."
This got laughter and applause from the Cannes crowd who had just watched the revelation-heavy tale of two New York-raised brothers working out their peculiar relationship in Buenos Aires. But although they had just seen a brand new film, audience members who asked questions remained fixated on The Godfather.
Coppola finally spelled out the "difference" between the mafia classic and Tetro – a stiff melodrama which could only achieve classic status in a very strange parallel universe: "The difference is 4 stabbings, 2 strangulations, many murders by gun, 3 murders by car explosion and 1 murder by machine-gun fire." That happens to be a better line of dialogue than almost anything spoken in Tetro (read our review of the film here)
The other difference – of which the contented writer-director seems blissfully unaware – is that repeat viewings of The Godfather are endlessly rewarding, whereas one viewing of Tetro is more than sufficient.
Throughout his career, Coppola has given a possessory credit when the film was based on previously published material. "It wasn\'t in his contract," said Coppola, "but I made sure it said \'Mario Puzo\'s The Godfather.\'" Although the author wasn\'t around to negotiate, the director extended the same courtesy for "Bram Stoker\'s Dracula."
He says he did that to pave the way for when he would qualify for the same treatment, realizing he\'d have to "create both the story and the screenplay."
The Directors Fortnight sidebar invited Tetro to be its opening film after Coppola declined a non-competing slot in the festival\'s Official Selection on May 22nd. Various rumors have swirled about the sequence of events, but what the Fortnight looks upon as a coup could also be interpreted as a diplomatic gesture of kindness. Tetro has its moments of creative élan but almost certainly plays best to those who can\'t distinguish how clunky much of the dialogue sounds or how stagey many of the line readings are. Given its weaknesses, Tetro would have been out of place in this year\'s Official line-up.
Coppola, who paid for the film himself and is distributing it himself this summer in the U.S., seems quite pleased with the result. After he spent the years between age 40 and age 50 directing a film a year to pay off his debts, "so the bank wouldn\'t seize my property in Napa Valley," the director is rich again from his entrepreneurial endeavors in wine and hotels. (How rich? He made the trip to Cannes in his own plane.)
It is impossible to begrudge a man who recently turned 70 having the wherewithal to do things his way. But this time around, he\'s made us an offer we can refuse.