Tár AD Introduction

Tár AD Introduction

by Jenni Elbourne

This is an audio-described introduction to Tár, showing on Sky Cinema Premiere. The introduction aims to provide additional details about key visual aspects of the film, which there may not be time to include in the broadcast description, while avoiding plot spoilers.

Tár is a critically acclaimed 2022 drama starring Cate Blanchett in the title role, for which she earned an Oscar nomination. Set in the world of classical music, the film is sensual and haunting in its explorations of creative prowess, power and control, cancel culture and paranoia. While the characters and story are fictional, it has the feel of a biopic, following its central character through every scene, sometimes seen through the eyes of others, leaving the audience unsure if she knows she’s being watched.

Lydia Tár is a world-renowned conductor and the first woman to lead the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. She’s passionate and domineering, holding her tall, slim frame with an unapologetic confidence; her dark blond hair worn loose but swept back from her face. During a long opening scene, while a New Yorker journalist recounts Lydia’s impressive career, she’s seen visiting a tailor and being measured for a suit. The pale blue shirt and green baize jacket she’s ordered replicate an outfit seen on the sleeve of a recording: Claudio Abbado conducting Mahler’s Symphonie No.5, which will also be Lydia’s next concert piece. In a sequence which can’t be described due to the overlaid speech, Lydia goes on to source red velvet chairs and a specific Swiss-made pencil to precisely recreate Abbado’s image, with herself in the role of conductor studying the same score, which she’s rehearsing with the Berlin Philharmonic.

The made-to-measure suit is typical of Lydia’s wardrobe – wide trousers and long jackets with shoulder pads, befitting an air of authority that’s seen by some as egotistical. She’s reached a level of fame that brings both significant wealth and a lack of privacy. She travels internationally by private jet and wears a baseball cap and sunglasses to avoid being recognised while she’s chauffeured around. She’s opinionated and intellectual; an American who speaks fluent German (sometimes subtitled and sometimes not). She also composes, teaches, and carries out research alongside her conducting work. She’s the co-founder of the Accordion Conducting Fellowship, which places emerging female conductors in residencies with orchestras around the world.

Most of the film’s locations are befitting of Lydia’s iconic status. The mid-century grandeur of the world-renowned Berlin Philharmonie concert hall is well captured; the orchestra in a horseshoe on a central platform, surrounded on all sides by sloping ‘terraces’ of seating for over a thousand guests. Lydia’s office is a long, wood-panelled room with a desk and a coffee area with 1960’s-style armchairs.

Lydia has two homes in Berlin. One is a townhouse apartment, where she sleeps on a sofa-bed while ‘holed up’ working on compositions. Every inch of wall space is lined with crowded bookshelves and a grand piano is the central feature of the light and airy living space. The other home is where Lydia lives with her partner Sharon and their daughter, Petra. Like the other buildings, it’s seen only from the inside; a sprawling brutalist apartment with bare concrete walls and chrome finishes, softened by neutral furnishings and more walls of books. Lydia’s study is organised with precision – a dark wood cabinet housing neatly catalogued bound musical scores with ‘Tár’ on the spine, and a cupboard dedicated solely to pencils. The family home has both a grand and an upright piano.

Sharon is a German native who plays violin in the Berlin Philharmonic.  She’s in her forties, around the same age as Lydia, with soft features; rosy cheeks and shoulder-length wavy hair that’s dyed a bright blond and usually pulled back in a low ponytail. The first time we meet her, Sharon’s suffering from ‘a flutter’ in her abdomen; a distressing but intermittent problem for which she takes medication. Petra, who’s six years old, is quiet and shy. She has pale brown skin and dark features – perhaps of middle eastern descent, although her heritage is not made explicit. While the family’s home appears somewhat luxurious, Petra attends an inner-city state school. Seen only from the outside, the four-storey neo-renaissance building and bustling courtyard playground can accommodate many hundreds of students. At work, Lydia’s accompanied by an assistant, Francesca. An aspiring young conductor herself, Francesca’s interactions with Lydia have undertones of intrigue. Their relationship is sometimes familiar and tactile, but often tense.

During the New Yorker journalist’s speech, Francesca wears a sinister expression as she stands, mouthing the exact same words the presenter is speaking; her dark hair scraped harshly back from a pale face, and her piercing grey eyes fixed on a stage where Lydia’s being introduced.

As the story unfolds, we meet others associated with Lydia’s work and the Accordion Fellowship. Witney, a young woman with freckles and bright red lipstick, makes no secret of her fascination with Lydia. Olga, a young Russian cellist who’s new to the Berlin Philharmonic finds herself attracting attention. She’s in her twenties; white with a heart-shaped face and brown shoulder-length hair. She wears simple but stylish outfits, often pairing a leather jacket with skinny jeans and heeled boots.

Andris is an elderly British man who once taught Lydia conducting and regularly lends her his ear over afternoon tea. He has thinning white hair and wears a bowtie and - when he’s outside - a fedora. Lydia’s Assistant Conductor, Sebastian, another British man of around 70, has receding grey hair, a fuzzy beard and a penchant for tweed and corduroy.

The Accordion Fellowship’s board members include Knut – a bespectacled clarinettist and Britta, an olive-skinned brunette with thick corkscrew curls. Eliot, who co-founded the fellowship with Lydia, is in his fifties, with plastic framed glasses and dark hair that’s receding on top but long at the sides.

Accordion is based in New York, where Lydia is also a guest lecturer at the famous Julliard School. In contrast to the mainly white world of the Berlin orchestra, her conducting students and the young players whom they work with at Julliard are ethnically diverse. During a conversation about the music of JS Bach, one student, Max, self-identifies as ‘BIPOC and pan-gender’ while explaining an aversion to the composer’s personal reputation. Max is tall and slim, with light brown skin and short dark hair with loose curls.  

Tár’s soundscape is notable for its lack of background music – everything that we hear is also heard in the world of story. (When you hear a piano, violin, or trumpet, it’s usually coming from a musician; occasionally from a record-player or radio). The players of the Philharmonic dress formally for their concert - white tie and tails for the men, black dresses for the women – but are more often seen in casual rehearsal clothing, their collective visual identity forged by their instruments.  The large string section sits at the front, every instrument the rich orange of polished spruce. Behind them are the brass and woodwind players, with percussionists at the back, all angled in towards their conductor. Lydia conducts them with bold and fervent gestures; sweeping legatos; punchy staccatos and moments of being suspended in time as she feels her way through the score.

Tár will be broadcast on Sky Cinema premiere from 1st September 2023, with audio description by Jenni Elbourne.