Train conductor James Levine was fired from the Metropolitan Opera in 2018 after accusations that he sexually assaulted four men – his students – three of them when they were teenagers. Conductor Charles Dutoit resigned from his position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London that same year after several women accused him of sexual assault. (Both men denied the charges.) In Todd Field’s “Tár,” starring Cate Blanchett as conductor named Lydia Tarr, both men are mentioned, by an elderly retired conductor, as the subjects of his sympathies. This peripheral character note should not be taken from the writer and director’s point of view – except that the drama centers around accusations of wrongdoing against Lydia and her presentation as a victim. The movie takes off quickly due to the accusations she faces; It blurs the details, cancels the narration, merely sketches the sessions, leaves crucial events off-screen, and offers a calculated measure of skepticism, in order to present her accusers as deranged and hysterical and the protesters against her rallied as frenzied and foolish. Furthermore, he portrays her as the victim of another assault, an attack based on blatant lies, but in the wake of other accusations it is gaining traction in the media.
“Tár” is a retrograde film that takes a bitter target in the so-called culture of abolition and satire on so-called identity politics. Lydia is presented as an artist who fails to separate her private life from her professional life, allowing her sexual desires and personal relationships to influence her artistic judgment – which in turn is affirmed and even improved under this influence. It showcases efforts to expand the world of classical music to become more inclusive, by commissioning and introducing new music by a wide variety of composers, somewhere between a self-sacrificing gesture of philanthropy and wholly futile. It mocks the concept of blind testing (intended to prevent gatekeepers, musicians, and administrators from making decisions based on appearance). He scoffs at the assumption that the orchestra is self-governing (which is what Lydia conducts unambiguously in the film, The Berlin Orchestra, in real life). It parodies a young American operative named Max (Zithvan Smith-Genist), who identifies as “a BIPOC A disturbing person”, who says he couldn’t take Bach seriously because he was a misogynist. The film looks at any social station and lifestyle alongside money full of pristine luxury and pristine like walrus, filthy, pathetic.
Lydia’s backstory – of a sterile, autobiographical kind – is dispensed with in the film’s first feature-length scene, New YorkerA photo centered around my colleague Adam Gopnik interviewing Lydia on stage at The New Yorker. He presents her via a series of her accomplishments: conducting engagements with great orchestras in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and New York, and background in ethnomusicology and indigenous music, a repertoire that includes female playback music. Composers and their performance alongside revered classical works, even Egot. As Gopnik recites her goodwill, her assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant), who she apparently collected, silently lip-syncs along the stage.
Lydia is married to Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), the concert director of the orchestra, a relationship that began around the time Lydia’s appointment to lead the group. They live with their young daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevich) in a brutal apartment of original pure antiquity (although Lydia keeps her old place, in an old building, to work in). Lydia is the co-founder of a program to mentor ambitions for female conductors. Francesca, one of her former students, works tirelessly as Lydia’s assistant, curator, and personal assistant, hoping to become her assistant captain in Berlin. Another ex-student, Krista Taylor (Sylvia Flott), appears to be stalking Lydia, who is meanwhile thwarting Krista’s career by dissuading orchestra officials from her appointment. There is a hint that Lydia had sexual relations with both Francesca and Krista – but just a hint and a calculated mystery enough to leave viewers debating in the hallway.
“Tár” is a helpful reminder of the relationship between retrograde ideas and retrograde aesthetics. It’s also a useful illustration of the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘story’, no predetermined set of events that inherently determine a character’s life, rise or fall. This movie, which kicks off the action with minimal hints that Krista is the source of trouble for the committee, does an almost as good job of erasing the details of everything that might have happened between them as Lydia herself does by deleting emails incriminating Krista. (One indication of the nature of their relationship is an anonymous gift—a signed copy of Vita Sackville-West’s novel “The Challenge,” based on the author’s romantic relationship with a woman attempting to die by suicide—to tears and ignore Lydia.)
The film takes Lydia’s point of view throughout. She has lived so long in the world of private jets and private enterprises that anything else seems like a terrible comeback. It matches so closely with her perspective that it depicts many of her dreams – however, despite getting into her head, Field can’t be bothered to show what she knows about her relationships with two of the film’s main characters; It does not convey what Lydia knows about her alleged misdeeds, whether through flashbacks, internal monologues, or details of investigations. The film seems to want it both ways: it upholds Lydia’s perspective regarding music, her professional relationships, and her everyday beauty, while carefully sowing ambiguity as to what Lydia is accused of, in order to wiggle an accusing finger at characters who are quick to judge based on what is being shown ( or not shown). By eliminating the accusations, Field brings to light the novel that he finds important enough to be shown on screen. By filtering Lydia’s cinematic self to include disturbing dreams but not disturbing memories, it shows which aspect of her character really interests him. By allowing her past to be defined by her autobiography, he shows that he too is fascinated by it and has little interest in seeing her past.
This film about the artist’s life and work is, for the most part, not quite so luminous about the music it is centered around. It provides some superficial details regarding Lydia’s efforts to interpret the piece at the core of the film, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, in terms of the author’s biography. As for the new music, Lydia may commission and direct it, and may induce Max to discover feelings in it, but the film never shows what Lydia does herself or finds in it. The best moments in the film are the few imported semi-documentaries, where Lydia, in rehearsal with the orchestra, instigates and guides the musicians at fine crafting points and other expressive details.
However, the music itself was portrayed with an absence of style. Not a single image of the orchestra in action has visual melody or contrapuntal intensity, and the depiction of the performance appears to be borrowed from any DVD of a symphony orchestra. (By contrast, see Photo by Edgar Olmer Realistic conductor Leopold Stokowski and musicians in an orchestra in the 1947 film “Carnegie Hall. Lydia’s gestures, and expressions as she performs, are laughable, not because Blanchett’s performance is in any way ridiculous, but because Field’s awkward and lumpy visuals make him seem so. In his climax scene, Lydia vents her stifling rage largely against Her perceived persecution, emerges from the wings of the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall to the sound of the opening trumpet call of Mahler V, which turns into the equivalent of Music walking on baseball player.
The film is no less dull when it comes to the artistic side of the power plays and personal relationships that go into making the music. A young cellist, Olga Mitkina (Sophie Kaur), chosen by Lydia on the basis of an attraction to her, in subtle defiance of blind test turns out to be a talented musician whose special talents Lydia offers (with a planned performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto). Far from keeping the somewhat bewildered orchestra away, Olga quickly won their admiration. Moreover, the main beneficiary of the accusations against Lydia (remarkably, relegated to New York gossip Mail) is a conductor for less talent, a board-friendly tech bureaucracy (and funder of her mentoring program), Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong). The only moving aspect of the musicians’ off-stage lives includes the fear of exposure that gay musicians have suffered, the distortion of their private lives by pressure to maintain secrecy, and Lydia’s acknowledgment of the career-threatening problems she and Sharon endured when they did. their general relationship. However, at the same time, Feld has the audacity to liken today’s #MeToo era – in which one character claims the accused is found guilty – to the supposed excesses and false accusations of post-war Germany in de-Nazification.
The “Tár”‘s subtle ambiguity provides a plausible deniability for relentlessly conservative button-pressing, and its aesthetics are no less retro, conservative, and tight-lipped. The film is set up as a series of scenes that cut from one place to another and even jump forward for a few minutes or hours, and Lydia Tarr’s characterization is similarly disjointed. Blanchett’s performance is not enough: she captures each moment sharply and emphatically, but despite her very skillful efforts, Field does not forge a dramatic unity. The movie is a slew of graphic plot points and talking points, but between the footage and the logos, neither its hero nor his world seems to exist at all. “Tár” accommodates fine art, and the high-level talk about it, into a smooth, shallow package. It’s far from great movie art as most of the movie clips are from Mahler’s Symphony. ♦