For Cate Blanchett, ‘Tár’ creates a compelling setting for a ruthless character to self-immolate

Cate Blanchett in “Tar”. Photo: focus features

When Cate Blanchett took the stage after the screening of her new film, “Tár,” at the Telluride Film Festival in September, Oscar buzz had already begun to build for her riveting performance as a classical conductor. Lydia Tar. A few days earlier, she had received the prize for best actress at the Venice Film Festival.

When asked why she wanted to take on this difficult role, which required Blanchett to learn to speak German, play the piano and credibly lead a full orchestra, she said: “It takes a lot for Todd Field to leaves his barn. He only does it if he has something important to say.

The packed theater laughed at his joke about the talented writer-director behind “Tár,” whose last film, “Little Children,” premiered 16 years ago. But Blanchett’s point also clearly resonated with a crowd that had just absorbed a powerful film grappling with current ideas about undoing culture and identity politics, and the timeless question of whether artists and their art can or should be judged separately.

Director Todd Field and Cate Blanchett attend the red carpet for the closing ceremony of the 79th Venice International Film Festival on September 10 in Italy. Photo: Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images

Field later explained in a video call he and Blanchett shared with The Chronicle, ahead of screenings of the film at the Mill Valley Film Festival earlier this month, that he wrote “Tár” while he was at home in New England during the pandemic. He had been thinking about the little we often know about artists who are silenced and canceled following a scandal.

“I was interested in really looking at power and asking, ‘How can we talk about power with any nuance?’ “Champ said. “Because I found myself really frustrated with the fear of having conversations about power and the inability to find common ground by having to hear the points of view others.”

Lydia Tár, the character he created with these issues in mind, is a lesbian conductor at the height of her career, in a field where women have rarely reached the highest peaks. She gives an interview to The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik (playing himself) in an opening scene, reflecting on the approach of her 50th birthday, preparing for a book launch and a much-anticipated live performance of the Fifth Symphony of Mahler with the great German orchestra which she conducts.

She is also a complex and imperious, ego-driven performer who is on the verge of a steep fall from grace. Longstanding insinuations about Lydia’s treatment of former proteges have become accusations in their own right on social media. How many women have been seduced and then rejected by Lydia following an affair? Did she block the career advancement of one of these young women, with fatal results?

Cate Blanchett in a scene from “Tár”. Photo: focus features

The film forces audiences to wonder how willing we are to forgive public figures when even the brightest and pioneering of our artistic heroes abuse their power.

Blanchett, who won two Oscars for her roles in “Blue Jasmine” and “The Aviator,” is in nearly every scene of the 2.5-hour tour de force character study. Field said Blanchett was his only choice for the role, and he wrote the screenplay with her in mind.

The actress, who sat next to Field in New York during the video interview, added that she felt the issues of the moment in “Tár” created an undeniably compelling setting for a ruthless contemporary character to self-reflect. immolate, but they weren’t the point of the movie.

“These seismic things have happened to us as a species — the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter and the pandemic, and they have yet to be dissected” in our cultural conversations, she said.

While on the fall festival circuit, Blanchett said she noticed that along with “Tár”, several other “fascinating films come out that don’t necessarily speak directly to these events or issues, but they are absolutely alive in the world of these films – because we have all been moved by living them.

For example, other likely award contenders include Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” about women who have been sexually abused; and James Gray’s “Armageddon Time” and Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light” involve racial injustice in their storylines.

Cate Blanchett in “Tar”. Photo: focus features

Cancel culture is “a plot device” in “Tár,” Blanchett said, “but that’s absolutely not what the film on.”

Field nodded in agreement, returning to his central idea of ​​power – both how it is wielded and what is tolerated when abused.

He said he and Blanchett discussed early in the development process that Lydia embracing her strength was more important than wielding her in the rarefied world of classical music.

Lydia Tár may fly in private planes in her bespoke suit and drive a Porsche through the streets of Berlin, but she is above all a woman who is comfortable with music and her own ambition, but lacks self-awareness. real personality.

Director Todd Field and Cate Blanchett attend the closing ceremony of the Venice International Film Festival. Photo: Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images

“Cate and I talked about it at length, that Lydia could have been an architect or CEO of a big company,” Field said. “Classical music is important as a backdrop, and it’s a very rich and interesting medium to explore for sure, but (the film) had nothing to do with classical music as a genre.”

Blanchett shared that after her mother saw “Tár,” “She said to one of her friends, ‘Oh, you’re not going to like it.’

“And I said, ‘Mom, you don’t want to like it because those are things that we have within ourselves. You don’t have to be a musician to see that we make all these little compromises or manipulations with others, or the way we all have relationships that are transactional in nature. It’s quite uncomfortable to see someone else do that. ”

“Tar” (R) opens in Bay Area theaters on Friday, October 14.

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