Is it inevitable that you will step over the line in a position of power to maintain that status? And how does one continue to take artistic risks in such a situation? Director Todd Field seeks answers to these questions ‘in Tár’ starring conductor Cate Blanchett.
Herbert von Karajan. Andrew Previn. Simon Rattle. Carlos Kleiber. Leonard Bernstein. Each and every one of them great classical conductors, artists who managed to raise the interpretations of symphonic orchestras to a higher level. Another quality that unites them: they are (or were) all human.
After all, classical music is a notoriously male bastion. It goes without saying that it took, for example, until 2014 before the Berliner Philharmoniker hired a female brass player. Or that it was only in 2007 that a woman appeared at the head of an important American orchestra – Marin Alsop, who became director of the Baltimore Symphony.
- ‘Tár’ is a psychological drama by American filmmaker Todd Field.
- The film revolves around a 50-year-old woman who has risen to the top in the male environment of classical conductors.
- She cannot resist abusing her position of power with far-reaching consequences.
- ‘Tár’ stands out for its careful portrayal of a very specific world and for Cate Blanchett’s phenomenal lead performance.
So right from the start you feel sympathy for the (fictional) main character from Todd Field’s excellent drama ‘Tár’. Lydia Tár has managed to conquer the seemingly impregnable fortress of classical music. She has broken one glass ceiling after another. At 50, she can proudly call herself a winner of the EGOT, the artistic grand slam of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. She is the first woman to lead a leading German orchestra. She is about to publish a book. And there is the imminent performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, one of her beloved works.
The Lydia we get to know, who brings lead actress Cate Blanchett to life with astonishing accuracy, has everything she could have dreamed of professionally. In her personal life, things also seem to be going well for her. Her wife Sharon loves her and together they raise an adopted daughter. However, the pressure Lydia’s job puts on her causes tension, and it doesn’t take long for cracks to appear. Her position and status have seduced Lydia into manipulation and hubris.
‘Tár’ stands out as a subtle portrait of a fascinating woman in all her contradictions. Or as director-screenwriter Todd Field puts it on GoldDerby.com: ‘The film takes a look at a person who is complex, competent, hypocritical, underhand and sometimes lying. In short, she is human. Is that why she is guilty of all charges? Maybe maybe not. But she is certainly guilty of humanity.’
A great asset of the film is precisely that it refuses to give decisive answers or to draw moral conclusions. One moment you feel admiration for Lydia Tár, the next she makes decisions that cross a line. But Todd Field is careful not to portray his protagonist too much as a heroine or a villain. Her motives always seem plausible and understandable, even if you know they are out of place. It is quite possible that you will judge her completely differently when you see the film a second time – which ‘Tár’ absolutely tolerates.
Director Todd Field is careful not to portray his protagonist too much as a heroine or a villain. Her motives always seem plausible and understandable, even if you know they are out of place.
Not a fake note
Field makes every effort to represent the world in which Lydia moves as accurately as possible. The filmmaker wanted to make a film that could convince even the biggest insiders. For this he called on the knowledge and experience of John Mauceri. The distinguished conductor has written a number of books on the discipline, taught at Yale and was once an assistant to Leonard Bernstein. The result is a film that doesn’t ring a false note on any level.
But ‘Tár’ is not necessarily a story about conducting or even classical music. It’s about power relations in the broadest sense of the word, and you find them wherever there is a hierarchy. From there, the film asks relevant questions. Does a person’s behavior automatically detract from his/her professional talent? Are art and morality inextricably linked? Is it possible to occupy a position of power without abusing it? Does the pressure of power mean you are no longer inclined to take risks and challenge yourself?
‘Tár’ fits perfectly with the current cancellation culture, but is about much more than that.
‘Tár’ plays in cinemas from this week.