Symphonic sociopath

Lydia Tár is a paragon of sophisticated achievement. Arguably the world’s top classical conductor/composer, she is currently history’s first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Her life with her wife and adopted daughter lacks for nothing.

At first, this seems like a pedestrian, day-in-the-life story about an exceptional person. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to music, the mercurial maestra is highly knowledgeable, but she can also be imperious, arrogant, and rude. She knows this and considers such behavior her right. But as the story unfolds, we get peripheral, almost subliminal hints that something, just out of reach, is amiss, and Lydia’s armor begins to crack under the weight of massive hubris.

Todd Field’s (Little Children, In the Bedroom) mesmerizing, intelligent film for grownups is a fascinating examination of the corrupting effects of power and privilege. Not enough can be said for the career-best performance put in by the flawlessly cast Cate Blanchett, whose genius lies in playing this big, showy role with such subtlety. She’s so good that you forget you’re watching a movie, and that’s the highest possible praise. I honestly cannot think of another actor that could do this. Earned her an Oscar nom (apologies to Michelle, but she should have got it), along with five more for the film.

Lydia’s cosmic comeuppance in the final scene is a particularly satisfying, laugh-out-loud punch in the gut, especially for those who live or have lived in Asia. (158 min)