Critics praised “Tár”, a film about classical music with a jaw-dropping Jewish accent
JTA — In the first 10 minutes of the new film “Tár,” a conductor played by Cate Blanchett discusses the Hebrew concept of teshuvah and from kavana and his close relationship with Leonard Bernstein – when he was interviewed by Adam Gopnik, who plays a Jewish writer, at an event organized by New Yorkers.
This is a decidedly Jewish preamble to a film that doesn’t overtly suggest that its main character and driving force – Lydia Tár, played by Blanchett – is Jewish or has some personal connection to Judaism.
But “Tár,” which tells the story of a classical musical genius who grapples with his demons in his past and present, taps into big ideas about art, culture, and society, including the role historically played by Jews and anti-Semitism in music. .
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The film received rave reviews and early Oscar buzz, in part because Blanchett and writer-director Todd Field were able to portray Lydia Tár as a powerful, frightening, and violent force in the world of culture. Many said they left the film convinced, with its universe-building powers and Blanchett’s deeply involved performance, that Tár’s character actually existed.
Every detail is so convincingly portrayed that it’s impossible to think that the elements of Judaism on display are the result of chance.
Here are some of the great Jewish ideas featured in “Tár,” which is currently playing in theaters. (Warning, this article contains spoilers for the film).
Leonard Bernstein is an inspiration.
In the world of cinema, Lydia Tár is a renowned conductor and composer who considers the legendary Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein to be her main inspiration and mentor.
Bernstein’s influence, and his Judaism, is especially present in Tár’s first scene with Gopnik, which takes place at the New Yorker’s Festival of Ideas. (This is also where Gopnik enthusiastically notes that Tár has won EGOTs, namely Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, and Tonys; he adds that Jewish comedian Mel Brooks is one of only other personalities to have received EGOTs, drawing laughter from the audience. ).
Towards the end of the film, we see an excerpt from Bernstein’s famous “Youth Concert”, broadcast on television, in which he introduces children to classical music and it is implied that it was this concert that prompted Tár to get into the arts.
Tár’s fascination with Bernstein makes the film an unexpected complement to “Maestro”, the composer biopic directed by Bradley Cooper, which is slated for release on Netflix in 2023.
The Jewish concept became a musical term
In an interview with Gopnik, Tár said that he learned from Bernstein not only to appreciate classical music, but also to understand it in Hebrew terms. Two ideas that specifically mark it, namely about kavanahor “intention” and that teshuvahwhich can be translated as “return” or “repentance”.
Tár’s personal interpretation of these ideas gives them an artistic dimension as well as their significance in Jewish tradition, where they are most often used in connection with prayer and penance. for him, kavanah was to honor the original composer’s intent of the music while imposing the conductor’s own intent, and he saw it teshuvah as an extension of the conductor’s grandiose belief that he can “control his own time”: turning back the clock on a piece, keeping the orchestra in a suspended state until the conductor decides to move on to something else.
Of course, Tár’s public life, like his life on the conducting’s podium, is the kind of performance he gives (with well-arranged intentions). Therefore, it’s possible that he’s using so much Hebrew in this first scene because he knows his listeners are fans of the New Yorkers including a large number of Jews.
But there is another hidden meaning to the inclusion of the teshuvah outside the music score page. Judaism also understands that the word, which is often used on Yom Kippur, refers to the concept of seeking atonement for past sins. And it turns out that Tár had to atone for his many past sins, and his failure to do so ultimately led to his downfall.
The film doesn’t address the question of whether he will ever be able to find forgiveness, but the final scene sees him embark on what appears to be a process of humility, on the long road to redemption: the beginning of teshuvah.
The omnipresence of Gustav Mahler
The Austrian-born Jewish composer and conductor is a haunting spirit in the film. Mahler is Tár’s most adored artist; early in the film, he records a rendition of all of his symphonies except for the fifth, often considered one of the most complex and memorable pieces of music ever composed.
Much of the film is dedicated to Tár’s attempts to finally record Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (of which he was the conductor) in live performances. Advertisements for these depictions explicitly link the two, placing Tár and Mahler in equal-sized portraits. Additionally, much of the film is set in Germany, and the discussion midway through the film about the denazification of the classical music world reminds us that Mahler’s music (as well as that of many Jewish composers) was banned and suppressed by the Nazis.
Why Mahler? Aside from his stature as a conductor, the film also bears similarities to his past as a manipulator. The character discusses how he pressured and discouraged his songwriter wife, Alma, from pursuing her own music career, much like Tár did with his own underlings. (Alma’s documented history of anti-Semitism, apart from his marriage to a Jew, is not discussed.)
And perhaps a more subtle connection: Mahler is best known for his reinterpretation of the works of composer and conductor Richard Wagner, a renowned anti-Semitic and racial theorist whose ideas about ethnic superiority inspired the Nazis. Tár, too, as a female pioneer in an industry dominated by misogynists, finds herself reinterpreting the works of men who would hate her for what they are – but her staunch defense of old classical music shows that, far from trying to tear them apart. working from their toxic behavior, he can truly admire both of them in equal measure.
The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra quoted
As a renowned conductor, Tár is certainly invited by some of the most prestigious orchestras in the world. In the film, one of the few named is the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
This mention comes up during a discussion with a friendly rival, Elliot Kaplan (played by Mark Strong), himself a Jew. Kaplan was amazed that he managed to snatch such a magnificent performance from the Tel Aviv orchestra.
Tár brushes off his compliment (and his request to see the score), but they initiate a discussion about klezmer music.
Yes, the Nazis were mentioned
Dealing with great artists and their toxic behavior is one of the main themes of Tár, which has been hailed as the first great film about “cancel culture”. And the connection between music and Nazis and anti-Semitism became a sort of barometer of what Tár’s own abusive behavior patterns might have engendered.
In the film, former mentor Tár Andris (played by Julian Glover) still resents the fact that even German musicians who are not members of the Nazi Party are included in denazification efforts (he also voices his sympathies for Jewish-American bandleader James Levine, who fell out of favor after decades of sexual misconduct). A member of the pre-Tár generation, Andris is not even as scrupulous as he is when it comes to considering the artist’s bad behavior: “I make sure that all the hangers in my wardrobe are pointed in the same direction,” he says somberly.
This scene comes after Tár chastised a group of young adults at Julliard for what he saw as their willingness to take offense at the giant sin of classical music, suggesting that some of the supposedly enlightened composers they wanted to embrace were also anti-Semitic in the past.
It all goes down well with her character, who – Gopnik tells us from the start – wants today’s female conductors and composers to “talk to” the great men of yesteryear.
So, “Tár” is a film that talks a lot about Judaism, music, culture with a capital C and past sins.