Cate Blanchett shines in "Tár": Does Johann Sebastian Bach belong canceled?

As a manic music virtuoso, Cate Blanchett conducts masterfully and despairs in "Tár".

Cate Blanchett shines in "Tár": Does Johann Sebastian Bach belong canceled?

As a manic music virtuoso, Cate Blanchett conducts masterfully and despairs in "Tár". The US drama not only looks behind the scenes of Berlin's cultural scene, but also tackles simmering social conflicts. A recipe that rises and resonates.

If you can relate to terms like "woke" or "cancel culture", one of the opening scenes in "Tár" offers you the opportunity to get terribly upset. Before a master class, the protagonist Lydia Tár pays homage to the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. This makes a young student uneasy: Bach may have been a genius, but he was also a very old, white man and presumably sexist. Tár's subsequent curtain sermon about young people and their lost understanding of art unfolds - in a rather exaggerated manner - a generational conflict. The fact that there is a deeper question of power behind this conflict becomes clear as the US drama progresses.

Lydia Tár, played by Cate Blanchett, is also a genius. The conductor is the first woman to lead the ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic. Director and screenwriter Todd Field cheekily uses fiction here, because reality has not yet produced a woman at the head of the world-famous symphony orchestra. As soon as Tár grabs the baton, she falls into ecstasy, her whole body squirming. She wrests top musical performances from strings, wind instruments and percussion. Privately, Tár is in a relationship with the conductor Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), the lesbian couple lives with their child in one of the nicer corners of Berlin.

Sometimes it's ugly behind the scenes of the concert hall. If you want to occupy a position, you first have to assert yourself. And Tár prevailed. As a powerful woman, she is in no way inferior to her male counterparts, she encourages, demands, fires. She is said to have had secret affairs with up-and-coming musicians. At least the young cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer) makes unmistakable advances. But after one of her former students takes her own life, Tár's absolute power begins to crumble. She eventually finds herself caught in a whirlwind of accusations, reproaches, and venting anger.

And Tár's inner workings also take considerable damage. She is haunted by nightmares, psychotic states and ghosts from the past, translated into hectic, disturbing cuts on film. Despite all the abysses, Tár is quite capable of empathy, even of love, so that she doesn't come across as a black-and-white antagonist, but first and foremost as driven by herself.

With the motif of the plagued artist's soul, "Tár" certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel. That's not even necessary, because the intensity with which Cate Blanchett brings passion, self-abandonment and desperation to the screen sets its own standards. Had she turned down the role, the film would not have been made, director Field said in an interview. Anyone who watches the film knows why. Blanchett's Oscar nomination is almost a formality.

Unsurprisingly, "Tár" is primarily about Lydia Tár. Many a secondary character degenerates into well-lit extras, which can calmly reflect the ambivalent nature of the conductor. However, there is no lack of variety during the more than two and a half hours running time, because the tempo is right. Appropriate space is given to a weighty topic such as the abuse of power. In the case of Tár, things are not always clear, some are based on circumstantial evidence, some are taken out of context, and yet a picture emerges that is familiar from many real (male) role models. The final melodramatic be forgiven.

For all its topicality, for all its dismantling, "Tár" is ultimately a declaration of love for music. The right ears transform everyday noises into sounds, with the right score individual tones become a symphony. Not only is "Tár" a modern day tale of failure, the film also reckones with a degenerate, fast-paced music industry while celebrating its end product. Because when Lydia Tár steps in front of the podium, raises the baton and violins, timpani and trombones fire out the first note, the cinema trembles.

"Tár" will be in German cinemas from March 2nd.

(This article was first published on Thursday, March 02, 2023.)