27 Oct

Tár — written, directed, produced by Todd Fields. Drama. 258 minutes Color 2022.
The Story: At the top of her field, a classical orchestra conductor is beset on all sides by professional, sexual, and musical outrages — and by internal beasts to boot.
Cate Blanchette can carry a picture in a handbasket. Here she is a conductor, a lesbian, a parent, a clever operator. I believe her in each role. I believe she speaks German. I believe in her lank blond hair tossed around the podium. I believe in her port and deportment. I believe in the clothes she wears and the places and way she lives and that she longs to raid the icebox but doesn’t. Doesn’t drink, either. Many things. But I do not believe that the woman, Lydia Tár whom she plays, is in any way a musician. Nor do I believe that any of the musical terms she utters are believable as they emerge from her lips.

The film begins oddly and brilliantly and proceeds the same way. For the story is given over entirely to the subtext to the main story, which is never visualized, save by the audience who fill it in, as one fills a crossword puzzle in its blank spaces. So the story is told interestingly and well, and thoroughly, with all the underlying madness intact. Cate Blanchette’s authority before a camera holds my attention to my task to hold my attention, and the surprises unleashed upon me and the story hold my attention, as does everything about it and contributing to it.

But even so large a part for Blanchette is not without its impossibilities. Perhaps they would stump anyone. What would Bette Davis have done? One shudders to think. What Blanchette does is to adopt a speaking pattern of constant pronouncement, as though she were always addressing instructions to her orchestra. True, she slides out of this in talking to her six-year-old daughter. But otherwise it is clear that music has swallowed her. And that’s the way she talks.

This is fishy. It is a choice both impossible to bring variety to as well as not to outrun its editing, so the performance looks both bumpy and sounds monotonous. The very control it imposes stifles it and is in turn thrown so far off track by the editing that it never appears to have a form and nothing can give it form. We do not watch Blanchette with empathy or sympathy or horror or rage. One simply watches conductor-talent flawed by its own intensities. The director is so in love with what the writer has written that it is impossible for him to see that both are not himself.

For instance, a long and useful preamble of a New Yorker broadcast, which settles us into adopting the strange and useful and never-before-seen narrative style, is followed by a teaching session of Julliard musicians which re-focusses us by showing off to her class the virtues and qualities of Bach to a student’s diminishment and shame. It is the Stanford Meisner approach to teaching — humiliation — always a miscalculation because always choosing to do it through the student’s one but always unchallengeable because irrelevant weakness. Cruel, insensitive, and stupid is what Lydia Tár is revealed to be. And, of course, very grand!

The director wrote the script, and the writing of the story is good, as its complexities lead up to a Tender Is The Night resolution, but the writing of the characters is less good. And the writing for the actor, Cate Blanchette, is perhaps less good still, because it has no arc, even a ruptured one. Go alone, but not for the ride. We are essentially faced with the task of bridging an incoherence.

Is it worth the trouble?

I say, give it a shot.

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