Tár (Movie) written and directed by Todd Field; starring Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Melant, Sophie Kauer.
This much I can tell you for sure:
Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a celebrated conductor at the peak of her profession. She heads up the Berlin Philharmonic.
She’s a lesbian. She and her partner are parents of a girl about seven years old. Lydia is having some personnel problems
with her orchestra. Other problems of some sort are plaguing her.
As for the rest of the movie – what’s happening and why, who it’s happening to, where it’s happening
– your guess is as good as mine.
It’s a beautiful movie, though: sleek, very stylish. The interiors are all super modern, elegant, stream-lined, tastefully
decorated and luxurious. There’s a lot of shop talk about the classical music world: gossip about conductors, lore about
the art of conducting, the performance of certain kinds of music. (You have to wonder whether this movie would have any appeal
to people who aren’t interested in classical music.)
But the most significant thing you can say about this movie is that it seems to be trying to establish something new in the
way of narrative. Instead of following an easily traceable storyline, it throws a lot of scenes at us, leaving us to figure
out what they’re about. Isn’t this what real life is like? Stuff just happens, doesn’t it? The structure
that we impose on fiction is artificial; it’s a construct that’s meant to give us emotional and intellectual satisfaction.
So, in the interests of trying to achieve something more true-to-life, why not throw out the structure, the conventions, the
norms of story-telling and just present stuff as it happens without all the editorial explanation, shaping and commentary?
In one of the movie’s first scenes, Lydia is being interviewed on stage before an audience by the New Yorker writer,
Adam Gopnik. This appears to be one of those cultural events that the magazine often advertises. One might wonder why the
real Adam Gopnik was chosen to play himself here. Perhaps the hope is that, by association, we will also take Lydia, the conductor,
to be a real person in this world that we know. I think it may have that effect.
Ms. Blanchett certainly presents us with an engaging character. She can be an aloof goddess, her visage radiant and luminous,
then a warm, charming personable woman, then a haggard, fraught ghost of a person. She washes and sanitizes her hands a lot.
Maybe that’s to draw our attention to beautiful, long, expressive fingers.
At one point, she’s watching an aged video of a musician (Leonard Bernstein, I think) talking about music. He’s
making the point that music speaks to us in ways that words can’t. Music evokes feelings and thoughts that can’t
be put into spoken language. Is that meant to underline the point of this movie: we can’t explain in words or in ordinary
narrative ways what is happening to Lydia?
Accompanying Lydia in many scenes is a young female assistant who seems humbly devoted to her. But the assistant consistently
conveys a brooding, troubled mood. What is wrong with her? What is bugging her? I never did find out, even though her problem
led to consequences eventually.
To mention just a few of the many other obscurities of the movie ... Lydia often wanders her apartment at night, trying to
locate the sources of mysterious beeps and taps. Some she finds; others she doesn’t. At one point she’s prowling
in the dark basement of what looks like an abandoned building. Next thing we, know she’s been attacked. Her face is
bruised and cut. Who did this and why? We don’t know. For a while, one of her fingers is bandaged. Are we supposed to
know why? In one setting, someone asks her if this is where she lives and Lydia answers no, not usually. Oh? I thought it
was her home. Sometimes we get glimpses of something as it’s appearing on somebody’s cell phone screen but we
don’t know who’s recording it or why. While jogging in the park, Lydia is stopped by the sound of a woman screaming
but we never find out what was wrong. Late in the movie, Lydia is meeting with some people in an office and, it’s only
by the barest of hints that we can presume that a sort of re-branding of Lydia is being envisioned.
Unlike most movies nowadays, this one opens with several screens of credits, showing those hundreds of names for everybody
from designers to caterers, drivers and office staff – the kind of thing that usually comes at the end of movies when
everybody’s trooping out of the theatre. Is the imposition of this tedious material at the beginning of the movie meant
to slow us down, to dampen our expectations, to warn us that what’s coming won’t be the usual escape entertainment?
Well, it certainly isn’t.
But it did hold my interest throughout. Mainly because the character of Lydia is so captivating. When you come away from the
movie, you have a good idea of what’s been bugging her, but your impressions are based mostly on surmise. There isn’t
a lot of evidence to back them up. Never mind. Despite the lack of the conventional norms of fiction, there actually might
be a point to the movie. It all has to do with the character of Lydia: no matter what life throws at you, you roll up your
sleeves and get on with it.
A Duet (Short Fiction) by Ian McEwan, The New Yorker, August 8, 2022
You can be pretty sure that a piece of Ian McEwan’s short fiction is going to be well worth reading, given that he has
written so many excellent novels. In this piece, he’s telling about a British school boy’s first experience of
sex at the age of 14 with a woman in her twenties. The atmosphere is vividly conveyed, the details are absolutely real and,
most importantly, the boy’s thoughts and feelings are nuanced, fluctuating and widely ranging in the way that we know
from our own experience but we don’t always see in fiction. All that we might expect from Mr. McEwan.
But is there anything special, anything outstanding about this piece? Yes, two things.
Firstly, the story is taking place in the fall of 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis provides a world- threatening background
to what’s happen in the boy’s private life. His school could be wiped out because of its proximity to a U.S. airbase
which would be a prime target in an international conflict. That leads his school pals wonder out loud if they might die before
they ever have sex. Which adds a bit of urgency to our hero’s sexual adventure.
And, secondly, when the boy does have sex for the first time, Mr. McEwan offers this reflection from the boy, a reaction that
probably many a young person has had but that I’ve never before seen in print: “It seemed as if he had been shown
a hidden fold in space where there was a catch, a fastener, and that as he released it and peeled away the illusory everyday
he saw what had always been there.” To him, it seems now as if all the conventional details of daily life were meant
as a diversion to keep everybody from knowing about this. And yet every adult did know. “What a façade. What pretense.”
On reading this back in August, I had the distinct impression that it was probably an excerpt from a novel. Indeed, I now
have the novel in hand: The Lesson. Here’s hoping this amounts to another of Mr. McEwan’s masterpieces.