TOlla Venice press conference of the film Tar Cate Blanchett he had said: ‘When Todd Field decides to leave the house and make a film, it is better to be on the lookout». The former actor who passed behind the camera hadn’t made films for 16 years. The two films he had made in 2001 and 2006, In the Bedroom And little childrenhad decreed the birth of a talent. Five Oscar nominations the first, three the secondif confirmation was needed.
But nothing, the promise had been denied, for 16 years Field had disappeared from the radar. Until he decided to leave the house. Or much earlier. Because films often have long gestations and only when they are finally delivered to the world is the work that has been going on behind the scenes for years revealed. Or for a whole decade, as is the case with Tarwhich screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival in September, finally comes out on February 9thafter collecting a Coppa Volpi, a Golden Globe, thanks to the incredible performance of Cate Blanchett, and 6 Oscar nominations. Two are for him, best director and best original screenplay.
“Original”, in general Hollywood conformism (which often awards nominations and awards based on identity, ethnicity and gender categories) it really is the most appropriate adjective for this film which the author, who landed in New York from Portland on a scholarship to study music, completed writing during the pandemic. When «all the rules were broken and the Studios gave the green light even to previously unimaginable projects.
«Tár is about power, not reactions to the abuse of power»
My proposal was that of a film on the classical music milieu, a bit generic… I used to work as a “clean up guy”, the guy who cleans up other people’s jobs. They asked me: “Todd, what movie do you have in mind?”. My answer was: “I don’t know, but trust me”» says Todd Field candidly to iO woman in the elegant setting of the Harm Yard Hotel in London.
Why did you wait 16 years to make a new film?
In 2006, doing the promotional tour of little children in the company of the children who had worked on the film I realized how much I missed mine (at the time Field had 3, with his wife Serena Rathbun, costume designer, ed). I have many regrets about my role as a father, while my children were growing up I worked tirelessly and said to my wife: “If I had the opportunity to have another one, I think I would do it differently.” Just as I was on tour with the film, Serena calls me and says, “Guess, I’m pregnant.” That child, an incredible child, he changed everything, my perception of things, of work, I feel like crying (his eyelash really gets wet, ed) to think about it. To answer his question, I needed a really good reason to make another film.
In 16 years you will have changed. Are you a different man and a different director?
I haven’t been sitting on my hands. I shot commercials to support my family and that made me, technically, much stronger. If you work in advertising, you have the opportunity to test machines before film directors, and to appropriate devices of all kinds. This made my muscles toned, allowed me to make quick decisions. The films I made before this long hiatus were born differently, they were low-budget productions, jobs I got for teaching at the American Film Institute.
«Two and a half hours in the company of this incredible woman»
The film is the result of a long collaboration with its protagonist, Cate Blanchett. How did she go?
I’ve known Cate for 10 years, I would have wanted her for another film that didn’t happen. Since we met we have never stopped talking. Cate is perhaps the greatest living film actress, I don’t want to use hyperbole… but I use it anyway, Cate is humble enough to intimidate you, arrives super prepared on set, makes everything look easy, and has a toolbox that you didn’t even know existed. It’s true that you never know what you’re going to get when you cast an actor, but her surprise with her was total. However, 10 years after that first encounter, with the world upside down, I still had her in mind, every morning as I sat down at my desk and began to work I greeted her, she didn’t leave, I couldn’t replace her with anyone other. And this while she still knew nothing about it. The preparation of the film was complex. For 9 months before we started shooting in Berlin, Cate had to learn everything, to play Bach, to conduct, to speak German.
In the film, Tár is an orchestra conductor of extraordinary talent and a lot of power, but with just as many shadows: lies about her past (perhaps she wasn’t a student of Leonard Bernstein as she says), a few skeletons in the closet (the suicide of a former collaborator ) and a predatory instinct. Where did the idea of making such a character a woman and a lesbian come from?
We all know how it works when men abuse their power, because men have always had the power. Women and gays have been cut out of the picture, so somehow this film can be said to be a fairy tale, a tale away from reality. What I wanted to explore was how the mechanism works, because to last power requires complicity, it requires that a lot of people look away and allow abuses. We are so naturally inclined to want to dominate others… If I had made a film about a man who implements these dynamics, I think nobody would have cared, we read similar stories every day in the newspapers, I certainly would not have gone to see it. In that milieu, the world of classical music, there has never been a single woman leading one of the great orchestras. This is the reason for my choice, because I would like the film to ask questions. We have two and a half hours in the company of this incredible woman, we are used to patriarchy, to men behaving badly, but that doesn’t interest me, how Tár behaves is a pure abstraction.
Tarin the film #MeToo and Cancel culture
Isn’t it the job of films, or of art in general, to give us answers?
No it is not. The media has changed a lot lately, it is increasingly polarised. And there are many works in which we do not scruple to judge and decide a priori who is innocent or guilty and usually 100 percent so. I wanted to keep away from all this.
Tár’s requiem is largely determined by the atmosphere generated by the revolution of #MeToo and Cancel Culture. Was that a starting point for the film?
The first decision I made about the film was when and where. The when is now, the where is halfway between Europe and America. There were scandals even in Aristophanes’ time and in Elizabethan England, but I wanted to talk about us, not about the past. Tár’s tools of annihilation could come in all shapes and sizes, including #MeToo, but the film isn’t about that, it’s about the decisions we make and their consequences. It’s about power, not reactions to the abuse of power.
«I worked with Stanley Kubrick but I have no mentors»
The scenes with the orchestra are beautiful and powerful. And Cate is a very believable teacher. How did you do?
John Mauceri, conductor, composer and author of an important book on conducting (Lesson from the masters. Art, alchemy and craft in conductingin Italy EDT publishes it, ed) made me a crash course in the milieu. The technical aspects of this film are terrifying. For the scenes with the orchestra we had 95 different positions for the cameras and every gesture, every movement of every member of the orchestra had to be planned. I wasn’t sure we would survive. That’s why we decided to shoot them first. If we hadn’t made it, the film would not have progressed. But it seems to me that it went well and in the end that choice gave us great confidence for what awaited us then. But we were exhausted…
The film, precisely because it speaks of the here and now, has aroused much controversy, the latest from the conductor Marin Alsop who said she was offended by the arrogance of the character «as a woman, musician and lesbian».
The film is a work of fiction, it is not a public announcement intended for women or men. I don’t think power has a gender. Anyone who approaches power does so because it is seductive and is structured in a pyramid scheme. We allow it to be like this because the maintenance of power is largely based on the transactions that it is able to carry out (the character played by Nina Hoss, the wife of Tàr, concertmaster of the orchestra, in the film says that «the only Tár’s non-transactional relationship is with his daughter, ed). It takes a different lens from that of the chronicle of abuse to illuminate, not the single person, but the thing, to understand why she does what she does and what advantages she derives from it. Advantages that concern not only her, but also those who gravitate around the center of power that she represents.
When she was working as an actor, he played the role of pianist in Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick. Would you say that Kubrick was your mentor?
I have no mentors, Tar lies about Bernstein, maybe she doesn’t either. I’ve worked with Stanley Kubrick, and he’s been very generous with me both in terms of time and advice, and he’s not the only one. I don’t believe in that mythology, anyone who talks and talks about mentors should perhaps stop.
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