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The eponymous character of Todd Field’s latest film, who has probably perfect pitch and incredibly sensitive hearing, is nearly perpetually sidetracked from her essential tasks by unimportant noise. The sounds include a metronome ticking, people banging on doors, and more. Our title heroine, Lydia Tár, almost absentmindedly reproduces the doorbell’s two notes on her piano after being startled by them. We are as alarmed by the noises as Lydia is, and they are reproduced through an aural design that is frequently unsettlingly exact in its directional location.
I was reminded of a song by the Dadaist sample-based band Negativland from the 1980s that lamented, “Is there any escape from noise?” The answer is “No” in both our world and the world shown in this movie. alternatively, “Not totally.” In Lydia Tár’s world, which Field created in his first feature film in 16 years with great agility, grace, and mystery, music is used to attempt the nearly impossible escape. Particularly classical music, and notably sublimity-seeking classical music.
Lydia Tár is one of the marvels of the ancient world, and Cate Blanchett plays her with intense and seamless commitment. She is an accomplished pianist, a sincere ethnomusicologist, and a determined popularizer—apparently she is a member of the EGOT club, which is unusual for a classical person. Lydia has to get away from distractions in order to complete the work to which she almost stridently commits herself, as she is a versatile conductor about to finish recording a cycle of Mahler symphonies.
Is cheering noise? An anxious Lydia enters a concert hall’s stage in the first scene of the movie amid thunderous adoration. She’s not there to play; rather, she’s there to be interviewed as part of one of the sporadic cultural festivals that big cities like to have. Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, is her interviewer. He plays himself in a performance that may lack self-awareness; the glitter in his eye as he speaks with Lydia is that of an obstinate, serenely smug know-it-all. Since this exposition essentially casts Lydia’s cultural status in stone, the viewer eagerly anticipates a movie that will demonstrate how the sausage is formed.
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Lydia has a lot going on. Lydia addresses Francesca (Noémie Merlant), her silent, melancholy, and effective assistant, with less warmth than most people would use for Siri or Alexa. Francesca observes from a distance as Lydia, in an advanced conducting seminar at Juilliard, passionately and profanely riffs against aspects of identity culture in response to one of her students’ flat-out arrogant claim that because Bach led a patriarchal lifestyle, queer BIPOCs can’t get with him. She had lunch with fellow conductor Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong) as she gets ready to depart New York for her base in Berlin, where she will be recording the fifth symphony of her Mahler cycle. Kaplan chats with her as though they are peers, but it is evident that he envies her success. Her plans for the Berlin orchestra, which include “rotating” an older colleague whose ear isn’t as good as it once was, are revealed to him.
There may be more than one pursuer for the conductor. During the Gopnik interview, we can glimpse someone’s back of the head. We observe Lydia being recorded on an iPhone screen while writing rude remarks to someone on a FaceTime chat. She is not adored by everyone.
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She isn’t especially likeable either. She chastises her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) for leaving too many lights on in their opulent, partially bunker-like Berlin apartment when she gets home. Is Sharon financing the electric company? There is a problem when Lydia keeps medications that belong to Sharon in her possession. The couple had a daughter named Petra, who Lydia adores endlessly. Late in the film, when Lydia’s world is coming apart, Sharon (who also happens to be the concertmaster of the orchestra) remarks that Lydia’s relationship with Petra is the only one in her life that is not transactional.
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And in a way, this is accurate. She is a continuous interrogator because she is an artist. She uses this method to accomplish what she sees as the only worthwhile goal, which is to serve the composer. Her aesthetic is a little bit reactive. Gopnik presents her as a supporter of female composers, notably Julia Wolfe, although she criticizes Icelandic musician Anna Thorvaldsdottir as a sexy flash in the pan who committed what Lydia views as the biggest creative crime: ambiguous intentions. (The video makes numerous references to musicians; all of them are real; this was, among other things, a carefully researched project.)
But she is innately and unapologetically selfish as a person. She looks after Lydia Tar. Lydia also eats voraciously. The news of the suicide of a former protégé shocks her in Berlin. In addition, while Lydia is attempting to hide her involvement in this relationship by deleting emails and pressuring Francesca to do the same, Lydia sets her sights on Olga (Sophie Kauer), a promising young cellist, and engages in pranks with more experienced orchestra members to elevate the newcomer. who is a fantastic player, as an audition scene makes a point of conveying. But even so. Lydia gives Olga a wolf-like expression during their first lunch together.
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The rarest of rarities, “TR,” is a prestige award contender that also qualifies as a true work of art. The story unfolds in an oblique, somewhat mysterious manner; Field is a far cry from the bluntness of his previous film, “Little Children,” from 2006. A few frames and sequences share compositional traits with Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick, with whom Field collaborated on “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kubrick’s final film, in 1999 as an actor. However, compared to many other similar films, the formal brilliance on exhibit here is in a softer range. That also applies to the note-perfect acting.
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The narrative of the movie draws heavily from newly-surfaced accounts of abusive and exploitative behavior by influential figures in the arts, as has already been extensively written about. Are Lydia Tár’s lofty goals and accomplishments tainted by her problem-person behavior, or is she ultimately In The Right Anyway? In fact, Field’s movie is almost as sceptical of the society that gave rise to a woman like Tár as it is of the current trend in culture that tries to disprove her. In the end, “TR” is not a polemic or a fable; rather, it is an interrogation that aims to engage the audience and force them to think about their own role in the issue.
opens on October 7 in New York and Los Angeles.