Cate Blanchett’s enormous talent commands the screen as well as the conductor’s podium in this intense drama about power and hubris. Writer/Director Todd Field portrays Lydia, the almighty female conductor of the Berlin Symphony, as a woman who exhibits total control with a baton. But not in control of her own life.
This is not a true story but adapted from an original script and written by Director Todd Field who likens directing films to conducting an orchestra. Blanchette takes up the mantel masterfully having to study German and work with the Dresden Symphony to learn how to conduct using the
“stick method.” One hand keeps the beat, while the other draws the emotion from sections of the orchestra.
The story weaves a slow-moving reveal of evolving disaster in Tar’s life. Field shows there’s more going on beneath the surface. Lydia’s slow descent into the unraveling of her life exemplifies how absolute power can corrupt absolutely.
At the very beginning of the film, there is a long, very uncomfortable scene where Lydia is teaching a conducting class. She literally holds one young male’s feet to the fire, lecturing him so stridently that his leg starts to shake. Does she help him? No. She finally drives him to the point of stomping out of class. She’s a bitch who flaunts her talent as well as her ability to talk down to people.
Lydia has everything. Fame, money and the baton fronting one of the great orchestras of the world, The Berlin Symphony. She also has a new book about to come out, is about to conduct Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and has an adoring family with her partner, Sharon Goodnow, (Nina Ross) whose supporting role is key to showing the weak side of Lydia. Ross’s nuanced reactions to her at home, and as a member in the orchestra, are so telling.
Lydia thinks she’s invincible. No one can touch her. She can do whatever she pleases to get whatever or whoever she wants. She and Sharon are parents to adopted daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic). Lydia loves this child as much as she can love anybody. She shows it erratically and sometimes coldly. When Petra complains of being bullied at school, Lydia threatens the other child on the playground, making sure nobody’s watching and warning the child not to say a word, once again, taking control of her power and reputation.
There is nothing weak about this movie, starting with the cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister. But it’s the low angle shots of her conducting from the podium that convey the immense strength, power and control she has over the musicians. Interestingly, there’s not all that much music. Most of it is short passages of rehearsals. The longest piece of music is the moving cello performance by the immensely gifted Russian protege, Olga (Sophie Kauer), is an object of Lydia’s attention and appetites. But interestingly enough, Olga turns out to be Lydia’s equal when it comes to manipulation. She uses Lydia as effectively as Lydia tries to use her.
Lydia’s treatment of loyal associates like Francesca Noémie Merlant and assistant conductor, Sebastian (Allan Corduner) shows her true scheming nature and abusive nature.She belittles respected conductor, Sebastian . And her complete lack of control goes on full display toward the climax when it is aimed at conductor Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong). Look out! Later in the film, when more goes awry, lies about Lydia’s underlying backstory are exposed in a short scene that helps explains this woman’s psyche.
Field shows the dynamics of power in relationships and succeeds on every level. He also shines a light on the power of social media that uses false narratives to build up and then tear down celebrities, and how it can dramatically change perceptions.
Power is as addictive as the pills Lydia continually pops that barely keep her paranoia in check. Blanchettle displays her power as an actress in this role with determination and perfection. Even though you might not like her character, it’s hard not to be impressed with how she conducts this performance.
Focus Features. 2 Hours 38 Minutes. R
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