October 20, 2022

CINEMA | A Difficult Woman – Cate Blanchett Orchestrates 'Tár'

"Our only home is the podium."
Cate Blanchett Nina Hoss Todd Field | Tár
Focus Features
Acclaimed filmmaker Todd Field returns after a sixteen-year cinematic absence in the highly provocative Tár starring Cate Blanchett as the eponymous fictional celebrated orchestra conductor and composer in a masterfully chilling psychological character drama about a difficult woman representing our current "cancel culture" climate of outing predators who exploit their corrosive cocktail of power and influence like social currency.

Audiences are introduced to Lydia Tár, a world-famous artistic figure (and EGOT-winner) in classical music, as the first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic wielding her iron grip on everything to do with conducting and composing. Field slowly reveals her narcissistic psychology and behaviour then how she grooms or controls attractive young female musicians underneath her purview. Much is only ever lightly suggested, teased, or hinted at before a full picture of who she really is becomes clearer.

Co-starring Noémie Merlant and Nina Hoss as Lydia's loyal assistant (an aspiring conductor herself) and musician wife (first chair violinist), there are actually few speaking roles of note to add to a building crescendo of tension. Field focuses on the details by following Blanchett's character in a tense three-week period where significant events unfold in both Berlin and New York during a pivotal time in her career.

Cate Blanchett Todd Field | Tár

Injecting the mythical-like ego of Lydia Tár with more typical male privileges and characteristics with inappropriate same-sex relationships also allows for more nuance and reflection while avoiding any lazy arguments about powerful old white straight cis men who the character is standing in for. Her abuse is about power just as much as it is about sex (something never actually shown). Aside from her fearsome talent and control, Lydia has much to offer as we see her fully as a person (even as a mother) with contextualization to make her troubling and unrepentant acts all the more loathsome.

The decision to explore the world of of high art in Europe instead of something more typical like Hollywood, Silicon Valley, New York finance, or any other notable or more highly visible industry with very "problematic" work cultures allows Field to make Tár so universally applicable to any top-level professional setting. It's an immersive artistic experience clearly very researched to illuminate minor but key elements of music orchestration and composition where scenes can easily navigate between gothic horror and black comedy.

Field and Blanchett make Tár towering achievement standing in for any industry where power and talent are easily exploited by powerful leaders. Her downfall (or "cancelling") is only effective because we see her at the height of her fame and glory on the cusp of orchestrating a masterwork and releasing an autobiography to write her own history. It's a meticulously controlled and intellectual film with a central performance that's timeless yet still hyper-topical in its subject matter.


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