On 'TÁR,' 'Aftersun,' 'Le Bureau' and Amy Rigby
Catching up on recent movies, TV, and live music
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‘TÁR’, directed by Todd Field, starring Cate Blanchett
There are so many good reasons to see TÁR, the latest feature film written, directed, and produced by Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children), but the overwhelming reason is Cate Blanchett, who portrays the title character, Lydia Tár, a world-famous orchestra conductor of the dramatic kind (think MTT or Leonard Bernstein, both of whom are evoked in the film). The psychological drama in this character portrait is quite compelling, and the issues it raises, including workplace harassment, Me-Too-ism, and cancel culture, make it timely. But Blanchett’s performance is and will remain timeless and the reason people will be talking about and revisiting this film for years to come. As she did in the pseudo-Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There, Blanchett utterly and totally disappears into the role to the point where at times she no longer even looks like Cate Blanchett (it is possible this illusion is partly aided by prosthetics or computer manipulation). Blanchett, who reportedly learned to speak German and studied conducting for months in preparation for the role, has established herself as the heir to the Marlon Brando-Robert DeNiro-Meryl Streep-Frances McDormand school of total immersion acting. At this point, I would go see her in anything. (Screened at the Crandell Theatre in Chatham, N.Y.)
‘Aftersun,’ directed by Charlotte Wells
Aftersun is a dreamy, gauzy portrait of a father-daughter relationship that ranges the emotional gamut from humor to love to utter despair. This quiet, Scottish drama written and directed by Charlotte Wells takes place mostly at a cut-rate Turkish beach resort, where Calum (Paul Mescal) and Sophie (Frankie Corio), father and daughter respectively, attempt to reestablish their somewhat estranged relationship. The film gently and unassumingly introduces multiple narrative viewpoints that only fully emerge when it has come to its (somewhat ambiguous) conclusion, a strategy totally suited to the complex psychological dimensions of the characters. It is both a tender drama and an emotional thriller, filmed with unique flair by this first-time director (how is that possible?). (Screened at Time & Space in Hudson, N.Y.)
‘Le Bureau,’ French TV spy thriller on Prime Video
The Bureau, or Le Bureau, is a captivating French TV spy thriller that starts out recalling Homeland and over the course of five seasons winds up in The Sopranos and The Godfather territory. That is meant as the highest of praise, and Le Bureau sits comfortably adjacent to those cultural signposts; it is simply one of the greatest epic TV series ever. Based in Paris in the offices of the French version of the CIA, the plot takes viewers around the world, from Moscow to Syria to Phnom Penh and elsewhere, as the intelligence officers recruit foreign agents and neutralize enemies in dashing, cloak-and-dagger style. Mathieu Kassovitz is at the fulcrum of the sprawling story, as a brilliant if erratic agent who is as haunted as he is hunted. Midway through the series, Mathieu Amalric — probably the best-known French actor this side of Gerard Depardieu — joins the program, and the two Mathieus play off against each other brilliantly. The cast is deep and intricately drawn, as private lives intersect with work lives and constantly threaten to undermine the secrecy needed to successfully carry out the various missions involved, which include battling ISIS terrorists, entrapping a high-ranking FSB (formerly KGB) official, and crippling Iran’s nuclear power efforts. All this, and a lot of romance and sex, too. As always, the French do that better…. (streaming on Prime Video)
Amy Rigby, live at Spotty Dog, Hudson, N.Y.
I was instantly reminded why Amy Rigby’s 1996 album, Diary of a Mod Housewife, ranked high on my list of the best albums of the Nineties as soon as the rock singer-songwriter kicked off her intimate concert to a packed house at Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson, N.Y., on Saturday, November 19. Rigby is a triple threat as a songwriter, composer, and guitarist. She often writes songs drawn (presumably) from real life, about people she has known, relationships she has endured, and life’s learned lessons—often with a wry sense of humor. Her melodies and arrangements come fully equipped with catchy hooks and Beatles-esque riffs, although Lou Reed, whom she sings about, is probably a better touchpoint for Rigby’s New York City-centric tales of urban bohemian life. Her song titles alone tell half the story: “Dancing with Joey Ramone,” “From Philip Roth to R Zimmerman,” “The President Can’t Read,” and “Needy Men.”
Add to all this Rigby’s considerable prowess on electric guitar, playing both rhythm and lead with a search-and-destroy attack very much influenced by the Tom Verlaine-Richard Quine-Lou Reed school, with a bit of George Harrison thrown in for good measure (for a few songs, she strapped on a 12-string electric). Rigby was ably accompanied by her life partner Eric Goulden, better known to you as Wreckless Eric, on bass and vocals, and a drummer whose name I didn’t catch. The arrangements served Rigby’s songs, which ranged from her 1990s work through several written recently, including references to pandemic life. In some sense, Rigby’s story-songs disguise the mind of an acute social critic, delivering her mini-essays in perfectly crafted three-minute pop songs.