At The Movies: Psychological drama Tar a tour de force, Jung_E a sci-fi stumble

Cate Blanchett in Tar. PHOTO: UIP

Tar (M18)

158 minutes, opens on Thursday

5 stars

The story: Cate Blanchett is magnificent, starring as an imperious orchestral conductor whose private and professional life suddenly, inexorably unravels.

The titular New York-born maestro in Tar has ascended the classical music circles to reach the pinnacle as the first principal female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Lydia Tar is as feted as Blanchett, who is tipped for a Best Actress Academy Award: It will be the actress’ third win, after The Aviator (2004) and Blue Jasmine (2013). Lydia is brilliant, manipulative and exacting, and Blanchett is a tour de force as this towering intellect in sleek tailored suits.

Lydia is preparing a recording of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony that will seal her place in history. Over those three weeks, between the cello auditions and contract negotiations, allegations of her sexual predations go viral online: They say she has been abusing her position of authority to seduce young women in her orchestra and mentorship programme.

Lydia’s wife, played by the eminent German actress Nina Hoss, is the concertmaster. Their relationship comes undone, along with her prestige.

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American film-maker Todd Field is back writing and directing his first film since his 2006 acclaim for Little Children. His storytelling is controlled and elliptical, but watch closely, for there are signs of trouble – what are those surreal noises at night? – throughout this psychologically charged character study.

Blanchett learnt German, piano-playing and conducting for her role, but her fictitious anti-heroine seems so real also because Lydia’s fall from grace is a familiar story in today’s cancel culture. Does genius excuse bad behaviour? Can a disgraced artist not be recognised still for the greatness of her art?

There are no answers, and Lydia dares the audience to judge her.

Hot take: A standing ovation, please. This philharmonic backstage drama is a virtuosic examination of power and privilege with a savage punchline for an ending.


98 minutes, on Netflix

2 stars

Kim Hyun-joo in Jung_E. PHOTO: NETFLIX

The story: In the near future of this Netflix sci-fi film, extreme climate change has exiled factions of humanity to space shelters where they wage a never-ending civil war. An experiment gets under way to clone an indestructible robot army.

Kang Soo-yeon died from a brain haemorrhage in May 2022 at the age of 55, and it is best to remember Jung_E for being the actress’ final film than as a stumble by South Korean auteur Yeon Sang-ho after his hit zombie trilogy Seoul Station (2016), Train To Busan (2016) and Peninsula (2020).

Kang plays Seo-hyun, the team leader at a research institute who is mapping the brilliant tactical mind of her commando mother (Kim Hyun-joo) to build super soldiers.

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The latter has been in a coma for 35 years, following a failed mission. Seo-hyun is still in grief, and the project is her way to keep her mum alive by repeatedly reanimating the legendary warrior for simulated combat trials: think Edge Of Tomorrow (2014) with Tom Cruise as Emily Blunt’s mother.

The entire talky middle hour is confined to Seo-hyun in her lab facility. Action is sparse in what is primarily a parent-child love story, but most lacking is writer-director Yeon’s mere marginal examination of the big issues regarding the ethics of cybernetics and the meaning of human consciousness.

His post-apocalyptic fable is a mismatch of intention and ambition. It never reconciles the personal drama – a heartfelt one, for sure – with the complex yet ultimately inconsequential dystopian world-building. Does anyone, Yeon included, even know what the war is about?

Hot take: A mostly earthbound experience.

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