Updated: Feb 15
Okay, so we sat through Tár, a film about a lesbian classical music conductor who finds herself in hot water for the same abuses that sometimes bring down powerful males: accusations of sexual harassment, or ruining careers because she did not like what someone did or said.
Played by the very talented Cate Blanchett, Lydia Tár is at the apotheosis of her career, with a rather preposterous list of awards and accomplishments to her name. But instead of admiring her, you quickly tune in to Lydia Tár’s manipulative nature.
Blanchett is currently making the PR rounds to promote the film and her Oscar nomination. Hollywood media seem to have taken the bait, fawning all over her. But as a fan of classical music for years, and a patron of classical concerts in cities across America, I think Blanchett is making too much of the film.
My argument is not with her performance. I mean, kudos for effort. My argument is with the film's script and direction, which made Blanchett's performance seem pretentious, rather than knowledgeable. She became a pantomime artist, not believable as a conductor.
This could be due to the fact that the Dresden Orchestra hired to “act” as the Berlin Philharmonic was available only during the first weeks of production. So, right off the bat, Blanchett had to conduct an orchestra as if she knew what she was doing. In several reviews I've read, she admits to being scared to death, and I don't blame her. Not only did she have to conduct, but she had to speak German during rehearsal scenes—quite a lot to ask from an actress from Australia.
Script wise, through the first boring hour, Lydia Tár speaks in musical jargon that only academicians, music critics, and musicians might understand, although several reviews I've read say that this dialogue is a bunch of hooey. One professional trumpeter’s review remarked that nobody connected with symphony orchestras talks like this, other than professors in classes at Julliard.
But after those first “conducting” and “talking” scenes, Blanchett’s performance did settle in.
In some scenes, Blanchett displayed Lydia's manipulative scheming perfectly. Those scenes, the human-relationship scenes between Lydia and her colleagues, her lesbian partner, or their adopted daughter, were Blanchett’s best. We could see Lydia trying to control and manipulate everyone except her young daughter. Even her partner remarks that Lydia’s relationship with the young girl, “is the only relationship of yours that is not transactional.”
Knowing this, we can enjoy Lydia’s eventual come-uppance. For example, she lights up when she hears the click of high heels during a blind audition, and you know Lydia is looking for a new “piece of meat.” Trouble for Lydia is, she’s encountered a talented Russian cellist who will not be harassed. In fact, the young cellist skillfully dodges Lydia’s advances. But we fear that this young cellist may have her career ruined if she does not acquiesce to Lydia’s desires.
Luckily, Lydia’s partner gets pissed and kicks Lydia out. Then several quick scenes lead to Lydia being forced to resign from the Berlin Orchestra after a lawsuit related to the suicide of a former protégé. There’s a scene where PR reps say that Lydia’s reputation must tell a new story. There’s another weird scene with Lydia staying in a neighbor’s apartment, playing the accordion, screaming a song about “Apartment for Sale.” (Blanchett even gets a musical credit for this at the film’s end. Talk about insider jokes. Ha. Ha. Oh, how funny.)
After attempting to storm the stage and attack her replacement during the live recording of Mahler's 5th Symphony – what should have been her crowning moment – Lydia decides to return to her childhood home on Staten Island. There, we learn that her name is actually Linda Tarr. Her brother sarcastically tells her, "you don't know where you're from or where your going." (Gosh, we didn't know that.) She sadly watches an old video of her former mentor Leonard Bernstein giving a talk about the power of music. I guess we are supposed to be moved, but we are not.
Suddenly, we flip to Lydia traveling to the Phillippines to conduct an orchestra for an oddball video game convention. Some say these scenes are a dream sequence like we’ve seen briefly throughout the film. Lydia encounters a tourist guide who offhandedly explains that there are crocodiles in the river because they escaped during the shooting of Apocalypse Now. That seems quirky. As did scenes from the convention where the attendees were in animal costumes. And there’s a bit with Lydia naively seeking a massage, a real massage for her bad back, only to find herself choosing from prostitutes in “a fishbowl.” She vomits in disgust after that experience.
Were these scenes real or a dream? Only the director knows. It’s not clear. That question alone makes the film a bit of a mess. When it was finally over, I turned to Bill and said, “I feel like we’ve been had.”
Pat-Oh-Meter Rating: Two Stars. My apologies. Although Cate Blanchett may win an Oscar for her efforts, both Bill and I did not enjoy even one lick of this film. In fact, most of it was an F-ing bore. In addition to pretentious dialogue, here was the Dresden Symphony pretending to be the Berlin Symphony, with a very likeable and talented actress pretending to be a very unlikeable conductor who falls apart after everybody figures out she’s trouble. Gosh, what a trite message.