#Oscars: “Tar” (2022) starring Cate Blanchett, Noemie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Mark Strong, & Julian Glover

Set in the international world of Western classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and the very first female director of a major German orchestra. -Synopsis

Lydia Tár: Don’t be so eager to be offended. The narcissism of small differences leads to the most boring kind of conformity.

Conductor/composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the first female principal music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, is at the top of her game. She is known as a trailblazer in the male-dominated classical music world. Lydia prepares for the release of her memoir while tackling work and family. She is preparing for one of her biggest challenges: a live recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. However, forces she can’t control chip away at Lydia’s facade, revealing her dirty secrets and the corrupting nature of power. At the 95th Academy Awards, Tár received 6 noms: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.

Lydia Tár: You want to dance the mask, you must service the composer. You gotta sublimate yourself, your ego, and, yes, your identity. You must, in fact, stand in front of the public and God and obliterate yourself.

Writer/director Todd Field wrote the film specifically for Blanchett and wouldn’t have made the film w/o her; they previously planned to work on a different film that Field could not acquire financing for. Focus Features told Field that they would produce any film that he wanted as long as it was at a certain budget. Blanchett had to re-learn the piano, learned how to speak German, and learned how to conduct an orchestra for the role. Scenes of the orchestra playing are 100% real; Blanchett was actually conducting the Dresden Orchestra. Hungarian pianist and professor at the Hungarian Academy of Music, Emese Virág, helped Blanchett prepare for her role. To bring Tár’s (carefully cultivated) speaking voice into being, she listened to recordings of Susan Sontag.

Lydia Tár: Unfortunately, the architect of your soul appears to be social media.

Is this a real person!? You wouldn’t be alone in wondering this, like my friends and I did when we watched it (Amazon). Near the start of the movie, Tár (who is fictional) is interviewed by Adam Gopnik, a New Yorker reporter, in a V long scene supposed to be taking place at the mag’s annual festival. Her book is being published by Nan Talese at Doubleday. Tar’s suits are tailored by Egon Brandstetter, who plays himself. Even the young Russian cellist, Olga Metkina (Sophie Kauer), is played by a British-German musician who recently got into acting.

The very first scene we shot was a post-rehearsal scene… at the Dresden Philharmonie that’s supposed to be after the very first rehearsal that we see of the Mahler. It was the three of them, it was Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss and Noémie Merlant, and I remember that first take, and it just, it took my breath away because that’s a part of filmmaking… It’s the magical part of filmmaking. It’s beyond the camera, it’s beyond the lighting, it’s beyond your lens choice, it’s beyond all of – art direction, everything else. It’s human beings in front of a camera that can do MAGICAL things. And that part of it felt like a long overdue homecoming. -Todd Field, on returning to feature filmmaking after 16 yrs.

Can you separate the art from the artist? During a lunch convo btwn Tar and her mentor/friend Andris Davis (Julian Glover), he mentions several real conductors: James Levine, Charles Dutoit, and Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 2017, Dutoit was accused of multiple sexual assaults over several decades; he resigned as artistic director/principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic. In 2018, the Met announced that James Levine, their principal conductor since 1972, had been fired in the wake of multiple sexual assault allegations and investigations. Wilhelm Furtwängler was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic (1922-1945); though he made symbolic nods toward independence, he was the most prominent conductor to remain in Germany during the Nazi regime and was known as Hitler’s favorite conductor.

She’s always been a key reference for me. I like to re-watch my favorite scenes of hers, sometimes right before I shoot a scene myself; not to copy her, just because it gives me energy. Working with her was mind-blowing. -Noemie Merlant

This film looks and sounds authentic; the viewer is taken (perhaps too deep) into the world of classical music. It’s obvious that Field was given a LOT of freedom to make his vision come to life. Yes, it’s V long (as w/ most movies lately); I think this is one of it’s few weaknesses. Blanchett continues to impress; she can truly play any role! All the supporting players do a fine job; the acting is subtle and realistic IMO. Merlant (who is French) continues to be one of the young’uns to watch; I think she did FAB in Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). I got a kick out of seeing Mark Strong (wearing a hairpiece) playing a wealthy businessman who is an insecure conductor. FYI: He is still my fave Mr. Knightley.

[1] Tár is a dense film. Thick with dialogue and emotional power. It’s also a bit tricky to get in to and might be a bit much for the casual viewer. That’s a shame though as it’s great.

[2] I seriously doubt that I’ll ever skip a Cate Blanchett movie. She’s won two Oscars and has been nominated six times. She’s consistently the best part of her movies, and often the best in a full year of movies. […] Ms. Blanchett is fascinating and mesmerizing to watch. She is at the top of her game playing a perfectionist who is at the top of her game. However, it’s clear this film isn’t likely to strike the right notes with mainstream audiences.

[3] The central topic emerges rather quickly (abuse of power), but there are diversions which support character development, yet drag on the narrative, which is probably why many reviews here find the film frustrating. […] Field expects viewers to interpret a lot on their own, which is bold and demanding, but with this approach it is crucial to keep focus on an underlying message, otherwise it gets lost. […] In conclusion, “Tár” has all the ingredients for a masterpiece – interesting characters, great performances, nice camerawork – but weak storytelling ultimately reduces the film’s potential.

[4] Near perfection from Blanchett. It’s a steamy, slow burn with a massive payoff, even at 150+ minutes. Cate Blanchett’s range of emotions exhibited through her acting is superb. The closeup orchestra rehearsal scenes are extraordinarily insightful for those who maybe have never been a part of a performing ensemble.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

One thought on “#Oscars: “Tar” (2022) starring Cate Blanchett, Noemie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Mark Strong, & Julian Glover

  1. There was a certain amount of commentary from the world of professional musicians about how much this film is NOT authentic to their world (I certainly agree with the point about Bach / cellists, except iirc the character referred to is not a cellist?):


    along with comments by Marin Alsop, who I guess thought the film was about her [LOL] and Louisa Farnham that I am aware of.

    That said, there certainly were notorious examples of conductors who were like that; Levine and Dutoit were pretty obvious references to make (Fürtwangler’s pro-Nazism is to me not so much a power issue, but he certainly wasn’t the only one who put up and shut up rather than lose his position). I never played in an orchestra at that level but even the symphony conductors I experienced as a musician either had extremely healthy egos, or pretended to during rehearsals. People who say there is a “god complex” among conductors are not entirely wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

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