Music for Venetian Pigeons

in 79th Venice International Film Festival - Biennale di Venezia

by Eva af Geijerstam

Two very different music films made their mark in Venice.   In competition there is Todd Field´s brilliant and corageous fictional Tár, which deals with a female conductor struggling for symphonic perfection at all costs, both private and professional. Much has already been written and said about Cate Blanichett’s unique achievment as Lydia Tár, precise in every gesture and exact in every hit tone.  On the other hand, screening Out of competition, Andreas Koefoeds and Jørgen Leths jazz documentary Music for Black Pigeons, praises cooperative sensibilities without the strict necessities of the composer’s written score.

The differences indicate the width of musical expressions, also mirrored in the chosen method. If – as is formulated by one of the few present day active and successful female conductors in the excellent Swedish documentary Call Me Madame Maestro: ”Architecture is frozen music” – Tár is building an extremely well-constructed palace, modern and classic at the same time, with an interior decoration of Lydia Tár’s infatuation with a young and talented Russian cellist, who makes her leave her partner Sharon and their daughter; fire her long-time assistant; fight off a fan obssessed with her and filled with disdain renounce every man making claims for her postition. A goodbye to the daughter is about the only moment when Lydia Tàr shows genuine tenderness.

Music for Black Pigeons, on the other hand, builds a smiling, non-hierarchical and welcoming hut for playful veterans and younger musicians, with Jakob Bro as guitarist and composer in charge. It turns out to be a quite wonderful homage to oldies like Lee Konitz, Palle Mikkelborg and Tomasz Stanko. In the same breath it offers a room for some younger musicians.

To both of them ”Hell is full of musical amateurs”, to quote George Bernard Shaw.

Especially to Lydia Tár, who is ruthless in her demands, in particular when it comes to complete her discography with a recording of Gustav Mahler’s complicated 5th symphony which – as it is -literally starts in minor but ends in major. And of which Herbert von Karajan, as one of Lydia Társ predecessors as the principal conductor of The Berlin Philharmonic once said: ”The 5th is a transforming experience”.

An experience which Lydia Tár chases with everything she’s got, not only to make it better, but to break through the glass roof for female conductors once and for all.

What makes Todd Fields Tár such an extraordinary experience is not only Cate Blanchett’s performance of a highly contadictory and never compliant woman, is its challenge of todays genederising of every move on the screen. Especially in a scene where a male student at Julliard under Lydia Tár’s supervision refuses to play Bach, because ”he was a misogynist old white male” (to put it consisely). Lydia Tár shows no mercy.

Beside an intelligent script, Hildur Gu∂nadottirs musical score, Florian Hoffmesiters superb cinematography, and the good taste to cast lesser known actors and actresses in smaller but equally important parts, Tár serves as refreshing counterpoint to the kindness in Music for Black Pigeons.

But the enigmatic power of music and its workings on the human inside is, of course, never completely defined. It is reflected in the long – extremely long – silence of bass player Thomas Morgan when he gets asked the Leth/Koefoed question ”what are your feelings when you play?”.  What finally moves him and Lydia Tár is left to our own ears, eyes and understanding.

Eva af Geijerstam
Edited by Mark Adams