Free at last to make movies - one a year, he hopes - with full financial and artistic control, taking advantage of Argentina's relatively low production costs and the creative inspiration he finds on the streets of its capital.
"After a while I realized that I was getting further and further away from what my original intentions had been," the 68-year-old filmmaker explains in an interview with The Associated Press. "So at this age I decided, 'Well, why don't I make the kinds of films I wanted to do when I was 18? I'll just do it later in life.'"
The five-time Oscar winner, best known for "The Godfather" trilogy about the Corleone mafia family, is preparing to shoot a film about a much different, but equally dysfunctional, Italian-immigrant clan.
Much of the film will be shot in La Boca, a neighborhood marked by the legacy of poor Italian immigrants who arrived by the shiploads in the early 20th century. Researching his tale, Coppola discovered many parallels between Buenos Aires and the New York he grew up in.
Coppola, who splits his time now between the San Francisco Bay area and Argentina, says he felt immediately at home in this most-European of South American capitals.
He has been photographed walking alone among the shops and markets in chic neighborhoods, a black beret pulled down over his graying hair.
"Buenos Aires is a big city like New York; it's full of life and it gave me a chance to put these characters in a slightly exotic setting where I would be free to work and pursue this more personal type of filmmaking."
Coppola has even discovered Argentina's biggest craze: attending soccer matches of the world-famous Boca Juniors team.
His stay hasn't all been pleasant - his studio was burglarized in September by thieves who stole computers and even his backup data system. Coppola made an unsuccessful public appeal for their return, but said his script for "Tetro" was never stolen, contrary to local press reports.
"They never stole the original script," he says. "They took the computers and the backup, but they only took photographs, only for the last year-and-a-half."
After a decade devoted to paying off creditors by focusing on less personal films, Coppola says he finally has the financial freedom to pursue his own projects with proceeds from his other businesses - including his California vineyard, an organic pasta business, and three luxury resorts in Belize and Guatemala.
And he continues to cast well known actors from outside the studio system.
Vincent Gallo of "Buffalo 66" and "The Brown Bunny" is the lead character in "Tetro," backed by Spanish actress Maribel Verdu of "Pan's Labyrinth" and Oscar winner Javier Bardem of "No Country For Old Men."
Newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, 18, will play a young man searching for the estranged older brother Tetro - a "tragic poet figure" who broke all family ties and moved in amid the Bohemian theater, dance and artistic community of Buenos Aires.
Coppola said he is not unlike millions of tourists who rediscovered budget Argentina after the 2002 economic crisis.
"People are coming here not unlike myself because the dollar is less compromised than even in Europe or Brazil," he said.
Coppola has made fortunes on gambles like "Apocalypse Now," and lost them on commercial flops like "One rom the Heart." Now he says he can finance his own movies, like "Tetro," for under $15 million.
He has even gained a decent command of Spanish, breaking into basic sentences with a clear voice.
"I feel people who come to the U.S. should definitely speak English, but I love the idea of the United States becoming a bilingual country," he explains.
At the same time, he says U.S. English speakers could benefit from learning more about Latin America's rich literary traditions.
With his 2007 film "Youth Without Youth," Coppola returned to directing after a hiatus of several years. He calls "Tetro" the "second film of my new career, so I'm just learning."
His focus now is on making beautiful, enduring films.
"I'm not really trying to make a lot of money off the movie business," Coppola said. "I want personally for people to say, 'God, that was beautiful!'"