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‹ Flicks with The Film Snob


November 10, 2022
Flicks with The Film Snob
Flicks with The Film Snob

A portrait of a creative genius, a conductor and composer played by Cate Blanchett, explores the dark and unacknowledged heartlessness behind the vigor and prestige of a famous artist.

Tár is the name of a new film written and directed by Todd Field. The main character, Lydia Tár, is a prominent American classical music conductor and composer, played by Cate Blanchett. We meet her at the height of her career, after heading several world-class orchestras, now the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, arguably the most prestigious position in the symphonic world. The film opens with her being interviewed at a New York film festival, where the brilliance of her intellect shines freely, discussing conducting in general, and her upcoming recording of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Behind Tár’s smooth and articulate presentation, there is a hint of something else, and I think it’s deliberate: smug condescension. Perhaps the supreme self-confidence of such a person will inevitably cast this shadow.

Lydia is a fictional character, of course, but Field has created an extraordinary and multifaceted personality for Blanchett to bring to life. It’s all very well to indicate that your heroine is in fact a genius. It’s quite another to write a character who makes you really believe it. Lydia’s talk is so sophisticated that we can truly admire, while at the same smile a little at the ironic touches the director adds to the portrait, the will of steel underneath the suave exterior, the strongly held convictions that drive every aesthetic statement, every literary allusion. The film presents us with a convincingly brilliant artist. But of course the writing depends on the performer for its realization. Field had in mind Cate Blanchett, one of our best living film actors, from the beginning.

Lydia has an extremely busy and complicated life. On the personal side, she is openly lesbian, living with her partner Sharon, the orchestra’s head violinist, played by the great Nina Hoss, with whom she has adopted a girl. We see her as a teacher, outspoken and even ruthless in her attitude towards what she sees as the timidity of some of her students. We see her as the super-efficient manager of her own career, so competent and controlling that she intimidates even those who work closest with her. The extraordinary thing is that in the midst of all this, we are made to suspect intuitively that there is a kind of emptiness at work, a big impressive show without a center.

Todd Field knows that classical tragedy portrays the fatal defects of larger-than-life figures. His screenplay and direction achieve a novelistic density, so that when events start to go wrong, it’s not really about hubris, but about a host of uncomfortable questions concerning artists and the needs that drive artistic creation, about the self-seeking that dominates people, about passion and its discontents.

Lydia has apparently had a habit of picking out female musicians to fall in and out of love with, brief infatuations and affairs. One of these young women angered her when they broke up, and instead of letting the matter go, Lydia decided to make sure that this poor girl would be blacklisted from getting a job in any orchestra. This is the start of things unraveling, but there are depths and shadows here that are more significant than just this one transgression, and they are slowly revealed.

Blanchett appears in a lot of genre pieces, as any steadily working Hollywood actress has to do, but here once more she is given the chance at something great, and she takes it even further than we expect. The musical sequences are stunning. Tár is a film of lavish beauty and desolating insight.  

composer,   conductor,   famous,   genius,   Mahler,   power,   self-seeking,  


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