Venice Review: Cate Blanchett gives a dazzling performance in Tár

Amany printed bags remind us that well-mannered women rarely make history. But what exactly does that mean? There is a tendency to romanticize the idea of ​​the complex woman, as if this adjective were an automatic badge of honor. Does this mean a woman is intelligent, independent or brave? Or is she just insufferable? And what man has ever been praised for being “complicated”?

In the dazzling, uncompromising and brutal game of writer and director Todd Field Tar—playing at the 79 Venice Film Festival—Cate Blanchett plays Lydia Tarr, a conductor at the top of her game and her world. We don’t see her struggling to be the best or complaining about how hard it is to be recognized in a male-dominated field. In fact, she believes that women conductors have no reason to complain of disadvantage or discrimination. While men often use money and power to fuel their sense of entitlement, Lydia stakes her claim on her own intellect. She takes what she wants from people and leaves a scorched earth behind. She’s awesome and terrible in equal measure, so compelling you can’t turn away from her, but also touching in a way that never panders to our pity. She’s unlike anyone we’ve ever seen on screen, which may help explain why this is only Field’s third film as a director, even though he’s worked steadily over the years as an actor: he’s clearly a man waiting for the right one to come along.

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tar, Field’s first film in 16 years is extraordinary. It’s also disconcertingly cool and distant in places, probably the kind of movie that’s easier to love than to like. But people will certainly be talking about it, and Blanchett’s performance in particular. Blanchett, though extremely gifted, can be over-mannered. (Her Oscar-winning role in 2014 Blue jasmine is Annex A; she hits every note distorted by Blanche du Bois with the precision of a tuning fork.) But she can also be a performer of great, almost alien strangeness and beauty, and that’s the undercurrent she taps into as Lydia Tarr. It’s a deliberate, charismatic performance, persistent and elegant as a vine.

When it comes to telling us who Lydia is and what it’s about, Field and Blanchett throw us in the deep end without even asking if we can swim. As the film opens, we see Lydia preparing for a discussion on stage in New York. She is dressed in flexible, androgynous, custom-made goods that seem to flow over her body; she engages in breathing exercises as she bides her time. It is all about preparation, which is a kind of control; with a healthy diaphragm you can conquer the world.

The New YorkerAdam Gopnik, who plays himself, introduces her to the audience by reciting a seemingly endless list of her accomplishments: She is the first woman appointed chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. She is almost as respected a composer as she is a conductor. And her soon-to-be-published memoir has a look-at-me title Norman Mailer would envy: Tar on Tar. Lydia deflects Gopnik’s sycophantic praise with withering modesty, and as the predictable Q&A questions begin to pile up, her answers race forward, moving on multiple planes like a duel with double dutch jump ropes, parabolas twisting a above and below another like irreducible brain waves. She talks about her idols, Bernstein and Mahler – she is preparing a performance of the latter’s Symphony No. 5 in Berlin. She scoffs at the idea that female conductors should be called by the special, feminized form master.(“They don’t call astronauts astronauts,” she says with a languid smile.) She resists seeing the conductor as a human metronome, but then turns to embrace him: “Timing is of the essence,” she says, the essential component of interpretation. It’s Blanchett playing herself as a performer, over-the-top on purpose, flaunting herself in her own house of mirrors.

In addition to a great, prestigious job, Lydia has what would appear to be an exquisitely ordered home life. She lives in Berlin with her partner Sharon (played by the great German actress Nina Hoss, whose name, if there were any justice in the world, would be as big as Blanchett’s), and their elementary school daughter Petra (Mila). Bogojevic), who isn’t as well-adjusted as she might be. The assumption—and the reality—is that Lydia is so busy being Lydia Tarr that she drops the ball at home. But in the world she is in high demand as an inspirational figure and she doesn’t let anyone get away with it. We see her giving a master class at Juilliard, and she doesn’t think to stand a kid up when they explain that “as a BIPOC, pan-gender person,” they can’t find anything to answer for in a dead cis white man like Bach. Lydia is irritated by this response, and says so in a most undiplomatic manner – but she also sits down at the piano, with the student next to her, and impatiently goes through a few short passages, as if to cut her way through the students’ collective disdain. Bach, she explains as she utters a phrase with an embedded question mark, “is never sure of anything.” She seeks to counteract the reductive thinking that has been programmed into these young people: “Don’t be so eager to be offended.”

But being on top of the world comes with its temptations, and it soon becomes clear that Lydia’s sexual indiscretion may not be forgivable: she has used her influence not only to seduce others, but also to hurt them. Lydia is gay—she describes herself nonchalantly as a “U-Haul lesbian,” whatever that means—though it’s hard to imagine her as a sexual being: she’s so smart, so demanding, so in love with the idea of ​​painting magic from nothingness in the form of music that seems to have no place for libido. But those close to her—like her ambitious assistant Francesca (Nomi Merlant), who aspires to be a conductor herself, and her partner Sharon, who is also the first violinist in her orchestra and the first to notice when Lydia’s eye flutters wandering – I saw how successful a manipulator she is. The film makes no excuses for Lydia’s behavior, and Blanchett’s performance lives up to it. Lydia is a woman who believes she can control everything around her, as if her ability to smash notes as they float through the air has made her a god, a being of great power and vengeance.

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Field’s previous two films were adapted from pre-existing sources: In the bedroom, of 2001 was adapted from a short story by Andre Dubus and small children, from 2006, is based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta. But tar, he said, was written specifically for Blanchett, and his confident direction makes the most of her every line and gesture. When Blanchett as Lydia stands in front of her musicians, she is so open that she can listen through every pore. In her realm of brass and stringed instruments she can hear things we cannot, like the gust of wind under a bird’s wing – she knows intuitively if that flash is too loud or too quiet and she can change it accordingly. Blanchett learned to speak German, play the piano and conduct an orchestra for the role, though what she does goes beyond simple research and memorization. Her movements are precise, definite, balletic: Blanchett plays a woman who knows what she was born to do, and the thrill of it burns in her eyes. Tar it offers nothing as comfortable as redemption and makes us fall in love, at least a little, with a tyrant. But how often do we see women portrayed in this way, as gorgeous rather than admirable? Lydia Tarr is the antithesis of feminism in the bag, not least because she knows that the power of a question is greater than that of a slogan.

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