28 January 2023

Cate Blanchett's greatest performance - Tar

Let me be honest; I would give Cate Blanchett the Oscar for Best Ac­t­ress, sight unseen. First look at her career, then focus on her new film, before it opens in Aust­ral­ian cinemas.

Cate (b1969) graduated from Melbour­ne's Nation­al Instit­ute of Drama­tic Art in 1992, a great car­eer decision from the start. Then she mo­­ved to accept rol­es in Sydney Theatre Co's produc­t­ions of Top Girls, Kafka Dances and Oleanna. Her first tv role was in the ABC's drama Heart­land (1994). She was a suc­­c­essful Op­h­elia in Bel­v­oir Street Theatre Co's pro­d­uction of Ham­let, plus The Tempest and The Blind Giant is Dancing. TV roles foll­owed, but I was much more famil­iar with her feature film,  Paradise Road (1997).  

Queen Elizabeth I

Cate met Andrew Upton in 1997 on a film set, then they married and left for Britain to play the starring role in Elizabeth (1998), win­ning a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama. Later she had star­ring roles in Bandits (2001), Shipping News (2001), Charlotte Grey (2001) and the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

I don’t remember her role as Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scors­e­se's film The Aviator (2004), winning a Best Supporting Act­ress Ac­ad­­emy Award. But I remember her Academy Award nomin­ation as Best Support­ing Actress for the naughty teacher in Notes on a Scandal (2006).

The biggest change came when the two of them became artistic direct­ors of the Sydney Theatre Co in 2008, to spend more family-time on Sydney’s beaches. Then Woody Allen offered her the title role in Bl­ue Jas­mine (2013), winning the Academy Award as Best Actress!! This largely ended her directorship of the Sydney Theatre Co.

Cate Blanchett’s career continued well, but let’s leap to her best role, soon to be released in Australia! David Stratton in the Aust­r­a­l­ian (21/1/2023) wrote that Todd Field’s huge­ly am­bitious, im­press­ive drama Tar (2022) is a portrait of a great art­ist: orchestra con­ductor Lydia Tar. It might be the perf­orm­ance of Blanch­ett’s career, one that won the Best Actress prize in Venice and a Golden Globe Aw­ard. But the film is more than a great perform­ance: it’s a film about cancel culture, political correctness and abuse of power.

Start with a lengthy interview in a New York theatre in which New Yorker journalist Adam Gopnik chats with Tar before a lar­ge, en­th­usiastic audience. Tar is art­ic­ulate, witty and supremely confid­ent and this scene effectively illustrates the conductor’s back story.

She was mentored by the revered Leonard Bernstein, has cond­uct­ed Bos­­ton’s Symphony Orchestra and New York’s Philharmonic Orchestra, and has been conductor of the Berlin Phil­harmonic. She has learnt German (as did Blanchett) and lives in a beautiful Berlin apartment with her wife, Sharon/Nina Hoss, and their adopted Middle Eastern daughter, Petra/Mila Bogajevic. She also keeps a second apartment which she uses so that she can work in peace, and for other reasons!

Conducting the orchestra in Tar
In the interview Tar, who has composed music for the movies, reveals that she’s a artist who has won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. She also reveals that she’s writing a book and she def­ines the most important elem­ent of music as time. She asserts that to conduct Mah­ler’s Symphony #5, which she is about to do in Berlin, it’s essent­ial to know all about the relationship between the com­p­oser and his wife. Thus Tar is an obsessive con­t­rol freak!

Then Tar is teaching students at the pr­estigious Juilliard School of Music where she humiliates a young male st­udent who refuses to play Bach because he thinks the composer was a misogynist. Tar is not ha­v­­­ing any of this cancel culture: The arch­it­ect of your soul app­ears to be soc­ial media, she tells the student in a withering put-down that will have ramifications later.

Each person involved in Tar’s life plays an important role in the drama: her PA Francesca/Noemie Merlant, capable and ambitious young woman; Elliott/Mark Strong, invest­ment banker with whom she has established the Acccordian Cond­ucting Fellowship, supporting young wom­en conductors; Seb­astian/Allan Cor­d­uner, eld­erly assistant cond­uc­t­or who crit­ic­ised one of Tar’s decisions; and Olga/Sophie Kauer, the new cellist, a deceptively naïve young Russian woman. Real mus­icians are featured as memb­ers of the orchestra.

Rarely in the cinema has there been such a detailed, comprehens­ive portrait of an artist. The film celebrates Tar for her tireless en­th­usiasm for her work and for how she navigates the inevitable politics behind a famous orchestra. And it criticises her for her ruthlessness and cunning.

Lydia Tar is brilliant, and also arrogant, power-hungry and malic­ious. And she abuses her power, con­fident that she is too imp­ort­ant, too indispensable to face any con­sequences. She first shows her true colours when she confronts a little schoolgirl who bullied her daughter, yelling at the startled child in German!

One important character seen in the film is Krista, one of the as­piring conductors Tar has pledged to support. Like other young women who cross Tar’s path, Krista had a deeply distressing exp­erience with the celebrated conductor.

The world of classical music concerts might seem to be a very ref­in­ed one and there’s no doubt that the 2.5 hours film will be a chall­enge for some viewers. But it’s a challenge that will be well rew­ar­d­­ed, seeing the brilliant Blanchett and also for the universal in­sights that the film potently explores. Actually Tar is as much a sexual predator as a Harvey Weinstein and Blanchett is exceptional in the role, supported by a fine cast. It’s an intelligent, disturb­ing film about power, sex and art.


Rachel Phillips said...

I saw Tár a week ago as you know from my blog. I too thought Cate Blanchett was outstanding. We are gripped by the story and we observe all the way through. It is quite surprisingly rivetting.

roentare said...

The way you praise about the film makes me want to see it right away.

Andrew said...

I am completely ignorant about Tar. She sounds like complex character, at best. Cate is a great actor and I did see her once in our not so central Melbourne Central shopping centre when she was promoting a forthcoming performance. She looked ever so stunning. I could not see a two and a half hour film.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa noite e bom final de semana. Obrigado pela excelente matéria de qualidade sobre Cate. Nos do Brasil, infelizmente temos conhecimento 0.

David Leser said...

With two films about conductors creating buzz this summer, the role of the person on the podium is very much in the zeitgeist. But what are they actually doing when they wave that little white stick about? Australia’s greatest living conductor, Simone Young, tries to explain in "Yes, maestro: the cult of the conductor"

It suddenly feels highly relevant given that Cate Blanchett’s new film, Tár, has opened in cinemas around the country this week, with the two-time Oscar winner playing a ground-breaking but unhinged, fictitious conductor of a major German orchestra; while Knowing the Score, a documentary on the very real, utterly sane Simone Young, chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, will air on the ABC on March 21.

By David Leser
Sydney Morning Herald
JANUARY 28, 2023

Hels said...


thank you for the link. I was not exclusively guided by your blog post, but it did make me feel Tar was a great choice.

Hels said...


Depending on where you are, Tar only opened in Australian cinemas this very weekend. Let me know what you think of the film in general and Cate in particular.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - I really want to see this film ... but for now 2 1/2 hours is, for me, too long - but it's a loss to me - as it sounds an amazing film. Cate Blanchett certainly give her characters life ... she's a brilliant actress. I will read the reviews etc and at some stage get to see it. Cheers Hilary

Hels said...


complex character indeed. Intelligent, scholarly, confident and focused, but sexually predatory, cunning and cruel. Did I mention manipulative?

The length of the film is an interesting point. My mind goes to mush after 1 hour and 30 mins, and my hips and lower back need to move after 2 hours. So I plan in advance eg by taking a computer game on my silent phone.

Hels said...


Tar started in Brazil on the 26th January 2023 but I couldn't find which cities and which theatres. If you love the production of music, you will love Tar.

Hels said...


which is the second film creating a buzz about conducting?

The "unhinged, fictitious conductor of a major German orchestra" is spot on so now I will have to examine the Simone Young documentary. I am delighted the two productions are so close together.

Hels said...


I am with you, sister! Although Tár may not be streaming on Netflix or HBO Max, you will be able watch the film on YouTube Movies, Apple TV, Vudu, Google Play and Redbox etc.
Enjoy in comfort.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I have never seen Blanchett in a movie, so can't offer an opinion, other than 2.5 hours seems quite punitive.
In other news, Christie's just published this article on Nazi looting and surrounding issues regarding restitution and following the Washington Principles:


A summary of those Principles can be found in the Wikipedia article:



Hels said...


many thanks. When I was reading everything I could find on the return of the Elgin Marbles, there was no mention of any principles. These Washington Principles, on the other hand, provided a framework for nations to respond to unresolved restitution, and the return of property confiscated in the war. Governments had to identify, research and return looted works of art; promoted transparency; creation of a central database; and dispute resolution.

Would it be possible, I wonder, to develop principles for returning stolen works of art that had nothing to do with World War 2?

bazza said...

Without doubt Cate Blanchett is my favourite Australian actress, possibly my favourite in the world.(And I also admire her male counterpart, Geoffrey Rush).
Also without doubt, Mrs Fire is my favourite Robin Williams film. (Sorry, I couldn't resist it!)

Hels said...


I think Olivia Newton-John, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Judy Davis were/are all terrific. Eric Bana, Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, David Wenham and Hugh Jackman are nearly as good :)

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Sounds intriguing. Cate is certainly an astonishingly good actress.

hels said...

she is brilliant, yes. My questions are: why would anyone write such a tricky character? And why did Cate Blanchett accept it?

My name is Erika. said...

Cate B is definitely a very talented actress. I enjoyed this post, as I didn't know she was Australian. I'll be curious to check out Tar. And I loved your comment about red hair...Happy February. hugs-Erika

Hels said...


agreed. So whether or not Tar wins the Oscar for Best Picture, I really really hope Cate B wins the Oscar for Best Actress. The last Australian actors to win were Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Crowe and the late Heath Ledger.