Tag Archives: Cate Blanchett

Tár (2022)

Lydia Tár, a renowned classical musician and music director played by Cate Blanchett, has a lot on her plate. She’s not only the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, an august post formerly held by luminaries like Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, she’s also an “EGOT,” a person who’s won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards. In other words, she’s written as much music as she’s conducted, and if that weren’t enough, she runs a school in New York City dedicated to “grooming” (choice of words no accident) young women to go onto be music directors themselves, and teaches a class at Julliard. My reaction hearing about Lydia Tár’s resume was similar to my reaction to hearing that Wilt Chamberlain slept with 20,000 women. “There isn’t enough time in the day.” But there’s where I’m wrong. In the long interview that opens the movie, with real life New Yorker critic Adam Gopnik, who plays himself straight but comes off like a clownish parody of a New York intellectual, Lydia Tár explains that her job as a conductor basically makes her a time lord. “The music can’t start without me. The music can’t stop without me,” she says. Lydia Tár has enough time because she commands time.

What Lydia Tár doesn’t command is the younger generation. In her class at Julliard, Cate Blanchett, in all of her flamboyant Aryan majesty, plays Lydia Tár playing Lydia Tár, an act that has brought her to the pinnacle of the artistic world. But this time the audience, her Generation Z students, aren’t buying it. We watch the transformation of a literal goddess, the privileged receptacle of the entirety of western tradition, transformed into just another out of touch old Boomer. When Max, one of her students, a tall good looking young man with a nervous leg played by newcomer Zethphan D. Smith-Gneist, tells her that “as a pangender BIPOC” he can’t perform Bach, Bach being a white, Protestant German male who oppressed both his wives by siring 20 children, she responds with a discourse on the importance of individual genius that we all agree with, but simultaneously see as a performance with a bit of a missed note. Max may be an absolute fool, but he’s also young, and the younger generation, who regenerate society with sex, idealism and passion, have decided that race and gender are more important than individual genius. They have pushed Lydia Tár and her beloved western tradition to the edge of the cliff, where she’s desperately hanging on for dear life

The rest of the movie shows them stomping on her fingers. As far as hostile young people go, Max is the least of Lydia Tár’s problems. Much more pressing is Francesca Lentini, a woman in her late 20s who we’re told is one of Tár’s designated successors at the Berlin Philharmonic, but who at the moment just seems liker her lackey and personal assistant. Francesca, played by Noémie Merlant from Portrait of a Lady on Fire, on the surface seems severe and competent, the kind of summer intern you’d actually hire permanently after she graduates, but surfaces can be deceiving. Francesca is also in constant touch, by smart phone of course, with another young woman named Krista, one of Tár’s former students who Tár may or may not have had an affair with, who may or may not have been an obsessed stalker, but who Lydia Tár has destroyed, blacklisted in the world of classical music and prevented from holding any job above the director of a local church orchestra or community theater. After Krista commits suicide, and Tár responds with astonishing callousness, Francesca’s passive aggressive resentment at long last explodes into out and out rage, and she begins plotting with Krista’s parents for Tár’s downfall.

Lydia Tár’s destruction has both a social and an artistic component. On the outside, we see her smeared in a highly edited TikTok video that “goes viral,” sued by Krista’s parents, and ultimately dismissed as director of the Berlin Philharmonic in favor of Eliot Kaplan, a billionaire investor who’s finally managed to buy his way to artistic success. But it’s Lydia Tár’s that is the soul of the movie. Tár’s confrontation with Max at Julliard was revealing. For Max, Bach was a “misogynist” because he sired a lot of children. For Lydia, a lesbian who will never have her own biological children, but like many gay men and women, has substituted art for procreation, that’s what made Bach worth studying, his ability generate life, to regenerate himself in his children, and ultimately his wife’s herculean ability to survive the rigors of 18th Century childbirth (Bach’s second wife, with whom he had 12 children, outlived him by a decade). Max, who’s chosen identity politics over life, can be dismissed. But it’s Olga, another young person, a talented Russian cellist played by real life cellist Sophie Kauer, who ultimately drives Lydia Tár over the edge.

In the artistic world, being “sexy” will get you a long way. In fact, it’s pretty much the entire point of artistic creation. What Millennials and members of Generation Z don’t quite understand, and why, with some exceptions, they’re boring, passive consumers of superhero movies and bad Star Wars reboots, “robots” as Lydia accurately points out, is that if you don’t want to fuck what’s up on screen, you’re not really experiencing “art.” You’re consuming a product. Olga, unlike Max, has real talent. In fact, she’s massively talented, and the only time the movie really comes alive is when she’s on screen. There’s no contradiction between Lydia Tár’s wanting to fuck Olga and wanting to promote her in the world of classical music. Lydia recognizes talent when she sees it and wants to do what she’s done all of her life, bring art and beauty to the rest of the world. But even within the framework of her own assumptions and ideology, the world has moved on from Lydia Tár. Olga will kiss the old lady’s ass as much she has to to get the spot in the Berlin Philharmonic but she’s most decidedly not under Tár’s spell. In fact, Tár no longer has a spell. She’s lost the ability to bewitch, to command an audience, or even to enjoy music.

Indeed, Lydia Tár’s keen sense of hearing, which has propelled her into the artistic stratosphere, is now her oppressor. Cut off from the world of youth, sex, beauty, creativity, she no longer hears symphonies and string quartets. She hears screams, stray out of place metronomes, unexplained groans from the next apartment, a frail elderly woman in the care of her Boomer daughter dying very loudly. Things fall apart. Mere aural anarchy has been unleashed upon Lydia Tár’s existence. Young people, who she has both exploited and promoted her over the years, have rejected her. Frail elderly people, who once exploited and promoted Lydia Tár, aren’t giving up the ghost without making a long, ugly moan. In the end, Lydia Tár finds herself expelled from the west itself, from the European elite that once accepted her, into an Asian exile, out of which which she may, or may not regenerate herself.

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine is the 2008 financial crash re-imagined as A Streetcar Named Desire.

Cate Blanchett, whose performance was briefly overshadowed during the winter by the rape accusations against director Woody Allen, plays Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis. Jasmine, a former member of the 1%, has crashed hard into the 99% after her husband, a sleazy Wolf of Wall Street type scam artist played by Alex Baldwin, commits suicide in prison. Now dependent on her adopted sister Ginger, played by the excellent Sally Hawkins, Jasmine has moved from New York to San Francisco to “start a new life.”

Ginger, to make an understatement, is a saint. Jasmine is a snob who looks down on Ginger’s working-class boyfriend “Chilli,” a Guido stereotype played to perfection by Bobby Cannavale. She had no job skills. She’s an alcoholic and a prescription drug addict who’s progressively losing her mind. She babbles on in front of Ginger’s two sons with the kind of incoherent rage no child that age should be subjected to. Worst of all, Jasmine’s late husband Hal scammed Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, Andrew Dice Clay, out of 200,000 dollars in lottery winnings. Ginger is a stand in for the American working-class, endlessly patient with a ruling class that abuses it over and over again. However many times Augie and Chilli, Blue Jasmine’s two-headed Stanley Kowalski, try to hammer it into her head that her glamorous adopted sister is a hateful fraud, Ginger is still willing to forgive her and take her back.

At least Blue Jasmine can be read this way, as a political allegory about the forgiveness and deferential attitude the gullible American 99% constantly displays towards the American 1%. It’s too bad so many of Woody Allen’s haters decided to boycott Blue Jasmine over the rape accusations Dylan Farrow made last January. Blue Jasmine has plenty of material with which to accuse Allen of misogyny masquerading as feminism. Is Woody Allen really interested in payback against Bernie Madoff, or is the film about something much more personal? Is it really about payback against Mia Farrow?

For Tennessee Williams, a gay man, A Streetcar Named Desire was about compassion for a fading, vulnerable middle-aged woman. But Woody Allen isn’t a gay man who identifies with Jasmine Francis the way Williams identified with Blanche DuBois. Even if Allen isn’t a pedophile who raped his ex-wife’s daughter, he’s still a man who likes very young women, and the 43-year-old Cate Blanchett is a good 2 decades past his expiration date. Is Jasmine the victim of the 1%? Or does she represent the predations of the 1%? If she does, what does it say about Allen that he chooses to personify Wall Street as a fading beauty down on her luck?

Compare Cate Blanchett, for example, to Julie Delpy, another formerly hot Generation X movie goddess now in her 40s. In Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, and in the unjustly neglected film The Countess, Delpy plays a woman obsessed with her fading looks, with her loss of power over men. In Before Midnight, her character Celine directly confronts her husband Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke. If she saw me on that train and I looked like I do today, would you still stop to talk to me? Would you still ask me to get off the train? That Jesse hesitates precipitates a quarrel that threatens to break up their marriage. Celine knows she’s not as attractive as she was in her 20s, and, while not quite as dependent on men as Blanche DuBois or Jasmine, she’s still rankled by the idea that she’s a frumpy soccer mom instead of the goddess she was.

Even though Allen shoots the 5’10” Blanchett as a once beautiful woman now becoming increasingly hard and masculine as downward mobility and time tag team her to separate her from reality, she seems to have lost none of her power over the male sex. Ethan Hawke’s Jesse would almost certainly still stop to talk to her on that train to Vienna. Indeed, Jasmine’s problem is that she has too much male attention. Eddie, Chili’s friend, who’s a good half a foot shorter than she is, tries to get her phone number, even though it’s clear she’s a down on her luck, pill popping alcoholic. Jasmine gets a job as a receptionist in a dental office solely based on her looks. She’s so incompetent at her job that in the real world, she’d cost any dentist half his patients, but her boss keeps her on because, as we later see, he wants to fuck her. She goes to a party and meets a slick Washington diplomat named Dwight Westlake, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who’s so smitten with her that he proposes marriage before he bothers to figure out that she’s the ex-wife of the film’s Bernie Madoff, a move that would have surely cost him his political career had Augie not exposed her before it was too late.

Yes, Cate Blanchett still looks pretty good in Blue Jasmine, but I doubt even the Cate Blanchett of Lord of the Rings could pull off what she does here. She’s a sorceress who has a magical ring that immediately gets men to think with the wrong head. While, admittedly, getting a man to think with the wrong head has never been particularly difficult, we have to understand, once again, that Blue Jasmine was written and directed by a borderline pedophile. So what is it that lets the 40-something Jasmine sweep men off their feet so easily? Perhaps Blue Jasmine is a political critique after all. Jasmine sweeps men off their feet because they, like the 99% as a whole, respect the 1%. Jasmine has class. She’s tall, blond, elegant. She carries Gucci, or was it Louis Vuitton bags. She used to live on Park Avenue, something that impresses the rubes out in the Guido ridden (in Woody Allen’s imagination anyway) hinterlands of San Francisco and Marin. She’s enough of a bull-shit artist to make people like Dwight buy into her own illusions about herself.

Is Blue Jasmine a feminist movie? Or is it a misogynist one? Perhaps it’s a a bit of both. Woody Allen, is clearly a snob like Jasmine. He’s as horrified about her having had to move to a shitty working-class neighborhood in San Francisco as she is. That he’s clueless about how expensive that crappy little apartment on Van Ness would be now is beside the point. For Woody Allen, Jasmine’s downward mobility exposes her to sexual harassment, and, in one horrifying scene, attempted rape by her employer. Jasmine is a woman who’s gotten over on her looks for so long she dropped out of college and forgot to pick up any real job skills. She barely knows how to use a computer. She’s been reduced to grabbing unwilling strangers and inflicting on them her tale of woe. As Blue Jasmine closes, we see her on a park bench, babbling to herself, well on her way to becoming a bag lady. This once beautiful woman has nothing more to look forward to but homelessness, mental illness, and probably sexual assault much worse than the one depicted in the film.

Jasmine is the ultimate victim of the 1%, someone who’s been so brainwashed by the ideology of the ruling class she won’t survive.