No one but Cate Blanchett could have played the movie’s main character. This world-famous conductor is on the verge of a crisis, a breakdown, or a creative breakthrough, with the necessary air of superiority.
No one but Blanchett knows how to wear a black two-piece suit with a white open-necked shirt, shake her hair out when she’s feeling free, and make her face look like a Tutankhamun mask of disdain.
She holds the screen for two and a half hours, with the help of Florian Hoffmeister’s epic cinematography, a tour de force of control that keeps us waiting and guessing for a climax that is almost tantrum-like in how long it takes to happen.
And when it comes, it is shocking, even if it is a bit over the top and even funny in ways that this very stylish movie can’t quite handle.
She plays Lydia Tár, who is thought to be the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and is called “Maestro” by her colleagues. Many scenes were filmed in the real concert hall, and Tár has an onstage interview with a real journalist, Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker, who plays.
This way, it could have been a gimmicky and self-conscious way to make the movie seem more real, but it isn’t. Tár is passionate, demanding, and bossy. She has the reputation of a rock star and lives a life of international touring similar to that of the super-rich. She is excited about her new challenge, which is to record Mahler live for Deutsche Grammophon.
Nina Hoss, who plays Tár’s first violinist, lives with her, and they have a child together. They live in a beautiful apartment, but Tár keeps her old, dirty Berlin apartment as a place to work, hide out, and write music.
Tár is having trouble in his life. She runs a mentoring scholarship program for women, which is run by Mark Strong’s role as a boring, oily want-to-be conductor. There are rumors that this is where Tár meets the young woman he has affairs with later.
Her assistant, who another would-be conductor, Noémie Marant, plays, seems to be someone else she is playing emotionally, and she is being followed by a former student obsessed with her. Tár has also come up with a tenderness for the new Russian cellist.
In the meantime, her guest masterclass at Juilliard goes wrong when a young student who identifies as BIPOC pangender dares to dismiss Bach on ideological grounds. Tár humiliates this young Gen Z student. And Tár always thinks something is wrong because she is twitchy, paranoid, and can’t sleep.
From the beginning, it’s clear that she’s being watched. There are strange noises and things that don’t belong. Tár threatens a little girl at the school where her daughter goes, who she has heard is mean. And the music itself doesn’t make things better. Instead, it makes the violence just below the surface even worse.
The Austrian director Michael Haneke may have influenced Todd Field’s ideas about surveillance, the return of the repressed, and the tyranny and cruelty in the bourgeois European classical music tradition.
Tár has a job where hubris is expected: you have a baton, like a field marshal. You can’t be a conductor if you’re shy and quiet. The job requires you to stand on a podium in front of musicians and direct them with big gestures.
And Tár is good at all this, including politics, diplomacy, and media management. She has made herself up by being a conductor. No other job or type of musical career could have done that. And watching her watch an old video of Leonard Bernstein teaching kids about music is touching.
I’m not sure if all of the film’s different and interesting tics, hints, and feints work well together, but Cate Blanchett gave a huge performance. Since you’re joining us today from India, we’d like to ask you for a small favor. Since it started 200 years ago, millions of people have trusted the Guardian’s fearless journalism.
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