Todd Field and Cate Blanchett dig deeper into ‘Tár’

When Cate Blanchett walked out of her first screening for “Tár,” she wanted to immediately go back and see it again.

Sure, she might be a little biased considering she stars in the film (and learned to speak German, conduct an orchestra, and play the piano for the role), but that’s not either. an unusual feeling. Writer-director Todd Field’s dense, literate drama about an artistic genius’ downfall in a #MeToo scandal is one that begs discussion and another viewing. As Field said, he sees a new movie every time he watches it.

This weekend, “Tár,” which is sure to be one of the top contenders this awards season, expands into theaters nationwide. Field and Blanchett spoke to The Associated Press about the inscrutable Lydia Tár, their inspirations and NOT showing her hands playing the piano.

Notes have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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AP: The film features Lydia at a New Yorker Festival-like event, with Adam Gopnik reading her introduction in a large auditorium. Was it just a way to give us his biography or is it a commentary on the ideas conference industry and its complicity?

FIELD: The important thing was how to meet her? You know, if you meet her at her height, in a very public way, there’s an opportunity to see it the same way we’re in this interview right now, like we’re trying to have an honest conversation , but we play for you.

BLANCHETTE: Hey! It’s me. This is who I am.

FIELD: It’s an aspect of her. Then we see her sitting with her business partner, this investment banker and would-be bandleader (Mark Strong), and you can tell she doesn’t want to be there. Then you see her roll up your sleeves and teach, what she really, really loves to do. But it is only after 40 minutes of film that we see her brushing her teeth. Then it’s “Ah, she’s like me.” We learn a lot of stories about him, but it’s really about how and when we meet the person. There are all kinds of narrative rules about when we’re supposed to meet the person. Syd Field would tell you we need to know on page ten. But that’s not how it works. It was important to meet the character as she is perceived in these other ways before we were allowed access to her.

AP: At one of the screenings in Venice, the audience applauded Lydia when she disparaged her student from Julliard for dismissing Bach as having nothing to do with him, which I don’t think they would do on a second watch. . Does this answer surprise you?

FIELD: I don’t think that surprises me. But what you’re saying, that I don’t think they would do that in the second quarter, that’s kind of the idea. This scene can be seen through many lenses. The goal we started with was simply the age-old question, if you could talk to yourself younger, what would you say? I think this character, when she was 24 and in a position similar to Max at Juilliard when she was at Harvard, she was trying to break down established boundaries in terms of the German Austro canon. But she’s not 24 anymore. She will be 50 years old.

AP: Although she pushed the boundaries, is she also a woman who perhaps only achieved that kind of success by also playing within the rules of the patriarchy?

BLANCHETT: That’s part of it. But she believes in the power of being the exception. Once you’ve overcome a mountain, you think, God, it’s beautiful here. And the beauty makes you forget how difficult the journey was. She is an accomplished musician. And she is a believer, a big believer in the great stories, in the great tradition. She won the right to perform these great works. It’s the same thing they teach in college. It’s like, of course, you can abstract, but first you have to learn how to paint the shape. You still have money against your teachers. But you forget.

AP: This film does a good job of making you feel like an insider in the world of classical music too.

FIELD: There aren’t a lot of sequences of conductors doing long rehearsals and it’s so much more interesting to watch them rehearse than to watch a performance. Our goal was to be able to take the viewer and make them feel like they’ve been in front of the house, at the back of the house, and they’re going through some sort of process with this character?

BLANCHETT: I learned a lot watching the documentaries (about people like Carlos Kleiber, Herbert von Karajan). There are all these behind-the-scenes moments that I found really fascinating. Abbado, after his first gig when he took on the role of principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, he walked out and someone went to talk to him. He was covered in sweat and he pulled away and he walked down the hall and stood really still and put one hand against the wall. It was such a lonely and lonely picture. You felt the burden he carried, the responsibility to create the sound and bring this orchestra to this audience.

FIELD: We stole this image for last.

AP: You recruited professional musicians here, but you also made the radical choice to teach your actors to play too, like Cate and Nina Hoss.

FIELD: The best actors I’ve known and the best musicians I’ve known are very similar because they understand very practical principles about touch, tempo, dynamics and sound. It was important for everyone who makes music on screen to make music. There’s kind of a long running joke, well I call it a joke, but maybe Cate feels differently about it, where she’s rather annoyed that I’m not showing her hands on the Julliard stage playing of Bach.

BLANCHETT: (laughs)

FIELD: If it was Leonard Bernstein or someone like that, you wouldn’t feel obligated to do it. If you go back and look at those youth gigs he did in the ’50s at Carnegie Hall, they don’t show his hands. What I meant was that the only time we feel compelled to show the actors hands on the piano is when they are pretending.

BLANCHETT: Or if it’s for the consideration of the Academy.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.