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Frozen into Rodin’s “The Thinker/ Le Penseur” pose for nearly five minutes, as the musicians wait for direction.

Synopsis: Power corrupts an award-winning conductor. (Streaming on Amazon and Peacock as of February 2023.)

Cate Blanchett is Lydia Tár, genius conductor. Be prepared to be awed by Tár’s CV. She was the first woman conductor of various orchestras in Cleveland, Boston, New York and the Euclidean Catchment Area. She has written a vast assortment of scores for stage and screen, including the wedding march scene for Meghan Markle’s character, paralegal Rachel Zane on Suits. An ethnomusicologist, she lived for five years with indigenous Peruvian peoples to study their music. She was also embedded with a flock of emu, part of a groundbreaking study on large flightless birds and their evolutionary association with human musical conducting. Finally, she is the possessor of a coveted EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner). Each of the four previous awards was based on reworkings of the British animated children’s show Bagpuss, an examination of the quotidian life of a chubby cream and raspberry striped tabby cat.

As Tár begins, our hero/ine is flying high as the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic (played by the Dresden Philharmonic) and on the verge of the publication of her memoirs. Tár is very, very busy. She had been in New York for a big, laudatory interview at an auditorium full of fans, followed by a guest teaching appointment at Julliard…

During her lecture for graduate composing students, Tár gets carried away going on and on about the mystical elements of conducting and composing. She takes an instant dislike to a young man who dismisses cis, white male composers. He says he’s not into Bach because he was a misogynist. Tar proceeds to excoriate the guy for being “so eager to be offended.” Finally, he gets up to leave, but not without a parting shot; he calls her an effing b i t c h. Well, guess he isn’t so set against misogyny when it comes to epithets.

Being impolitic comes to be a bit of an Achilles tendon for Tár. She discards people whom she has used up. Because she has an enormous ego –I mean she’s an EGOTer!– she doesn’t consider that someday, someone will bite back.

Insistent on praise from orchestra members, Tar shows off the shirt she just bought from Banana Republic/ Bananen Republik on her lunch hour.

Tár  has a thing for pretty young women in her orbit. She, along with a few other senior orchestra members, are auditioning cellists. Enter, Olga (Sophie Kauer) a talented candidate who also happens to be a nubile young woman. Tár employs all manner of skullduggery to give Olga advantages. Did I mention that Tár has a partner? She does; principal violinist Sharon (Nina Hoss) with whom she has a child, Petra (Mila Bogojevic).

When Tár isn’t trolling for a new lover (there have been others), she is attentive to Sharon, but this seems mostly to keep her partner lulled into a false sense of fidelity. Tár seems more honestly invested in her relationship with her elementary school-aged daughter Petra. The little girl seems insecure, so I supposed that her adoption was not too long ago. Tár quickly susses out that the girl is being bullied. On the next school run, she asks Petra to point out her tormenter in the schoolyard. Tár approaches the bully with an icy smile and then quietly tells her what she will do if her daughter has any more trouble with her. Cate Blanchett is very effective at threatening people in movies; it’s not for nothing that she played the evil stepmother in Cinderella. Making things even scarier is that Cate delivers the threat in German, an objectively scary spoken- language.

Tár is very busy at work. She is preparing the orchestra for a recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Wow, you should see her wield that baton. For a few minutes she and the audience are enveloped in the music. But once the baton is down, Tár is back to her Machiavellian schemes to hide past affairs, demote those she has grown tired of and pursue her latest crush.

But two problems are in her way… One: it’s hard to pursue someone at work when your partner shares the same workspace and, two: social media has been watching your public appearances.  Will the raging fire of social media consume her career?

For a genius, Tár can be stupid. For one thing, she never even snoops around to find out if the latest object of her affection is queer! Maybe check Olga’s socials to figure out her orientation. Also, maybe someone is nearby with a cellphone recording the things you say or do? I mean, she is supposed to be one of the most famous woman on the planet. Has she not heard of cancel culture? Finally… maybe don’t fire people who know your secrets.

Cate Blanchett is riveting as Tár. Of course, her accolades can’t compare to those of Lydia Tár (made up surname, like Häagen  Dazs?), but Cate conducts, plays piano, and speaks German like nobody’s business.

As for the narrative, it’s interesting as a character study, but it goes off the rails in the last half hour, hitting us over the head with elements of her downfall that include cosplay, manic accordion-playing, punches thrown and Staten Island. And maestra Cate is all-in, breathing fiery life into a gonzo (gonza?) character.

Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:   C+

Cut to the Chase:  Fantastic performance by Cate Blanchett, but the movie ends up sacrificing a character portrait for a bizarre finish.

Humor Highlight:   Tár’s very unsporting resolution to a fellow conductor’s usurpation of her spotlight.

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