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New movie starring Cate Blanchett rapturously observes her powerful lesbian role – then asks what her power means

By George Elkind

In writer-director Todd Field’s latest film, “Tár,” there’s a sense of drunkenness in the acting, an air of fascination in treating its title character as something of a monument – albeit clouded with apprehension.

The film features Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, a contemporary classical conductor and composer at the height of her career, who will soon reenact Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; given that we meet her at the absolute top of the heap, it’s unclear how high her star might rise.

From the artful silhouettes of Lydia’s costumes to her collection of beautiful books and records to her marriage to Sharon, the first violinist of her orchestra (played by brilliant German actress Nina Hoss), her life seems to unfold in some sort of garden. enclosed landscaped with large, well-chosen features. Even though the film renders her professional accomplishments monumental — so much so that her EGOT status is cast aside — the issue of her lesbianism is framed in both her words and the film’s portrayal quite casually, which poses the question of what being a lesbian means to Tár (and to “Tár”) as much of a mystery as the nature of the dizzying array of works she must have composed.

Blanchett, probably best known to queer audiences for her starring role opposite Rooney Mara in Todd Haynes’ 2015 romantic drama “Carol,” recently told Variety that the character’s lesbian status is “not the title or the issue. “, adding that she admired the role of the role. de facto treatment. And Blanchett is right, at least about this flippancy: Lydia’s life as a lesbian, her position as a prominent woman in a male-dominated field, and her motherhood of a daughter, Petra, are all treated as facts. natural in his life. Instead of these characteristics serving as primary characteristics of his identity, his life seems defined by his discipline, privilege, and prowess; she even expresses her skepticism about the impact of her gender on her career and at one point suggests scuttling the identity parameters of a charity aimed at supporting female musicians. Girlboss transcended by making a fuss, she enjoys a position of power that countless women can only dream of.

And they do. For the women in the field around her – none coming close to her level of stardom – Lydia’s way of being provides a tantalizing spectacle, eliciting a sense of professional aspiration that intertwines with more traditionally forms of desire. loaded. And as the film progresses, the feeling only grows. For Francesca, Lydia’s assistant (played with vigilant reluctance by Noémie Merlant, just as splendid as in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), Lydia’s position – as boss, key guardian and role model for her own needs – stands as a defining characteristic of his life. For Francesca, and for others, and especially for queer women, Lydia’s power – alongside, surely, her charisma and craft – is meant to generate both an attractive and repulsive charge.

But it’s more than incidental that Lydia knows this and plays on it, taking the film to a place of meditation, as she heads into a web of scandal, about what female power means. For Lydia is something of a womanizer, a self-centered, occasional abuser in more of a classic masculine sense, treating the men and women around her as disposable, and all but the same – even if the nature of her exact misdeeds is something the movie is often watched.

With its series of #MeToo-style malpractice allegations that end up trapping its protagonist, “Tár” makes itself contemporary through its timid engagement with the histrionic dramas of “cancellation”, of course – but above all through its flippant treatment of Lydia’s lesbian identity. (In this, a German framework surely helps). With Lydia as the film’s guiding force and ever-flexible main subject – as well as the object of her supporting cast’s desires and fears – the character’s treatment shows that she wields the power casually enough to harbor the easy potential of ‘abuse of. Given that, Field and Blanchett’s work on the character feels like something that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago. Treating identity not as magic but as something that may or may not be formative in one’s life, the film’s queer portrayal is torn between admiration and fear of its lead character’s charisma and accomplishments. But what it isn’t, to her credit, is kudos to her, knowing that she not only possesses a queer identity, but also such staggering levels of white wealth and privilege as they are, for the most part. LGBTQ+ people, beyond imagination. Lydia, on the other hand, doesn’t even seem to dream of not having these resources – and seems to believe they’re meant to be hers no matter what she does. It will be something to look forward to, the film seems to say, when one can even imagine that a wider range of people can enjoy the same varieties of power and recognition.

Photo by Focus Features