Tár Talented star artists direct their own destruction

The opening scene of the film is a montage of Tarr’s working life, with an off-screen voiceover of a long series of introductions to Tarr by famed New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik (playing himself lol), who is hosting an interview with Tarr in Manhattan. Through the introduction we learn that Tal is the principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, a household name with numerous awards and a rare EGOT grand slam.

She studied with Leonard Bernstein, and in particular has followed her master’s love of the music of composer Mahler. Conductors who can conduct all of Mahler’s symphonies in a world-class orchestra are titans of the classical music world, and Tal is close to achieving that. She is only missing one last piece: Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and after the interview she will leave New York to return to Berlin to complete the recording of the Fifth Symphony.

In that montage there is a sequence in which Tarr’s master vinyl collection is scattered across the floor of her study, and she is barefoot and on her toes, picking through the covers with their close-ups, as if she were standing on the shoulders of these giants.

Both the voice-over and the camera language make it clear that Tarr is at the pinnacle of her career. But the film is not about Tarr’s rise to the top, and the opening scene places her at the top in order for us to witness her fall.

[Power and Sexual Predators

One of the major reasons the director sets Tarr as a conductor is that several classical music industry leaders have been subject to sexual harassment allegations in recent years (American conductor James Levine, Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit). The reason why there are so many sexual predators in the classical music world, director Todd Fields feels, is that the majestic sublimity of classical music makes those who revel in it every day feel as if any form of pleasure is their divine right.

Tarr also apparently saw sexual indulgence as her rightful entitlement as a global celebrity. At a cello audition, the expressive bowing of a young cellist, Olga, and her blue leather-suede boots caught Tal’s attention. Tal goes to extraordinary lengths to promote the new talent and approaches her privately to coach her. At their first lunch, Tal looked at Olga as if she were a predator locking in on her prey.

The orchestra’s hierarchy was so strict that each of the musicians’ chairs was given a clear importance according to its proximity to the center of the conductor’s desk. Any point of mutual attraction, whether professional or personal, between those seated in them would be rendered impure by the proximity to the center of power. Tal is very aware of this, so regardless of Olga’s reaction, this power mismatch places her in the position of a sexual predator.

Not only Olga, but Tal’s interactions with other young women are more or less tinged with a disturbing ambiguity. After her New York interview, a young woman in the audience, rubbing her red lips, made sexually suggestive remarks and offered to get her phone number. Even her assistant Francesca, who is ruffled by Tarr in the car, makes people speculate whether there is an unknown past between them.

The film ends with a scene in which Tarr has to confront her own nature as a sexual predator. When she is in a Thai massage parlor, holding a number plate, facing a room full of young female technicians sitting on their knees in three layers, she turns around and rushes out of the massage parlor, vomiting on the street. This “selection of goods” type of service with sexual innuendo, let her think of her own bad past, disgusted.

[The controlling desire of the conductor

Another reason for setting Tal as a conductor is that conductors are a profession that naturally requires strong control – each string must be pulled to the exact tension and maintained for a sufficient length of time, no more, no less. Outside the conductor’s desk, Tal also conducts everything in his life as if he were a member of an orchestra.

After returning to Berlin from New York, the film begins to show a little bit of Tarr’s professional and private life. She has a full family. Her wife, Sharon, always seems tired. The two live in a luxurious Berlin fauvist apartment, where Tal chides Sharon for leaving too many lights on when she arrives, and where Tal takes the initiative in the relationship between the two partners, and Sharon is unspokenly wary and resentful of her. Not only the partner, but according to Sharon “you treat everyone but your daughter like a trade off”.

Tal at work was even more flip-floppy. Disliking Sebastian, the orchestra’s assistant conductor, for having an old and bad ear, Tal was so callous as to exclude Sebastian from the orchestra. But this excessive desire to control eventually backfired.

Francesca, the assistant, had her own musical ambitions. After Thal ousts Sebastian, he offers to let Francesca hand in her resume, leading the assistant to believe that she has finally made it to the top. But Tal set her up and didn’t pick her for lack of seniority. Francesca, who could not stand her overbearing attitude, had to do whatever she was told for the sake of her future. Now that her promotion has been shattered, as her personal assistant, she has her hands on Tal’s deadliest secret: her inappropriate relationships with several young women over the years.

The inescapable noise

Among Tal’s many ill-timed relationships, the one that finally brought her down was a former apprentice who hadn’t even shown up, appearing only in a few fleeting emails: Krista.

Tal had received an anonymous gift of a copy of Vita Sackville-West’s novel “Challenge,” about a romantic relationship between the author and a woman who attempts suicide. Tarr immediately tore up and threw away the novel because she immediately realized what the gift implied about her relationship with Krista. The novel’s cover artwork later appears on her family’s metronome as well.

A plot point that runs throughout the film is that she is almost constantly distracted by various outside noises. With her extremely acute hearing and near-perfect pitch, Tal is always keen enough to catch the distant ringing of the door, the ticking of the metronome, the knocking on the door next door, the screams of women running in the park, and so on. She tries to escape these noises and find their source, but they invariably reappear.

Krista was one of the “noises” that she wanted to escape but could not. In her emails with Krista, it is clear that Krista kept asking for a meeting and a second chance with Tal, but Tal was giving Krista bad reviews to other bands. The assistant kept showing concern for Krista, which Tal ignored. It is not until Krista’s suicide is in the news that, more in panic than remorse, she begins to coerce Francesca into deleting the desperate tattletale emails Krista sends.

The plot about Krista was deliberately designed by the director to be vague. On the one hand, it is clear that Tarr has done something wrong to Krista, and the director even arranged for Tarr to say in an interview, “I realized when I conducted the Rite of Spring Symphony that each of us is capable of committing murder. This statement seems like a prophecy Tal made to himself. But on the other hand, we don’t know what really happened between Tarr and Krista, and it could be the story of a young artist’s unhappiness. This “ambiguity”, I think, is because the director has been presenting the events through Tarr’s subjective point of view throughout, and Tarr wants to avoid the matter, so we can only see bits and pieces of her covering up the truth. The second is that the original story is not so important, as Tal’s flaws are already obvious, and the film is more interested in showing what happens when the cold new public moral order exposes all of one’s flaws to the light of day.

[Identity Label].

There is no more controversial theme in the film than the discussion of identity labels and the culture of cancellation.

Conductor, a profession that has long been dominated by men, Tarr is one of the very few women to have achieved global fame. Not only that, but she is also a lesbian, and her partner is the principal violinist of the same orchestra that came out publicly together. This persona could be considered the pinnacle of identity labels, but Tarr scoffs at them.

Not only does she disagree with the notion that she broke the female ceiling, she even denies that the ceiling exists and that gender has ever been a hindrance to her career development. She believes that the path for female conductors was paved a long time ago, that it is not a problem at all, and that she is lucky not to be defined by her gender.

Not only is she not defined by women, but Tal is more of a man at heart. When choosing a template for the new album cover shoot, the photographer offered women in dresses, while Tal picked himself a male pose. When her daughter Petra was bullied at school, Tal went straight to the little girl who was bullying her at school and threatened in fluent German, “I am Petra’s father and I will not spare you” (which caused a full house of laughter at the movie theater). Even the scholarship she co-founded to help young female musicians has been challenged by herself, who no longer feels the need to limit the beneficiaries to women.

When the interviewer mentioned the famous Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Tarr was very direct in describing her as a “sexy flash in the pan”, saying that she had made the biggest mistake of any artist, and that her work did not have a clear purpose. This is a satirical comment on many artists who use the status label as an achievement.

[Cancel Culture

The film also has a scene in which Tal takes a class at Juilliard, which generated a lot of buzz after its release. A young brown-skinned student says in class that he never listens to white male composers like Bach and Beethoven because of their “misogynistic” lifestyles (Bach had 20 children). Tarr rejects his wholesale dismissal of the Western classics as morally correct judgment in the age of social media, insisting that identity labels should not be mixed in when assessing art. It was hard not to admire her lively comeback as she played the opening prelude to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier on piano while parsing it with such passion, conveying the essence of the music in just a few notes.

But the confrontation in the conservatory classroom was secretly videotaped and later edited out of context and posted online, leading to demonstrations by liberals. Both this encounter and Tal’s inappropriate relationship with a young woman look like typical events in recent years under a culture of cancellation.

I feel conflicted and on pins and needles as I watch these events. I cannot sympathize with Tal, nor can I simply define her as a bad person. The complexity of this issue is precisely what the black-and-white culture of cancellation does not cover. Can an artist’s work be separated from his or her character? Should Bach be judged on the basis of his misconduct? Tarr clearly feels otherwise, and she is a contemporary version of Bach.

Tarr is not an easy film, it demands your full attention for two and a half hours to observe and understand each scene, which is especially risky and valuable in an era of hyper-English themes and short videos. I believe this will be one of the most thought-provoking and debatable films of the year. Blanchett’s acting skills need no introduction, she learned to conduct piano German for this role, proving that as versatile as she still has yet to reach new heights. In this year’s awards season Tal will definitely win something.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Funky Blog by Crimson Themes.