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How ‘Tár’ Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister Gave the Camera an ‘Observational Attitude’

This interview with “Tár” cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister first appeared in the Below-the-Line issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

German cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, best known for his collaborations with English director Terence Davies (“A Quiet Passion,” “The Deep Blue Sea”), has won both the top prize at Camerimage as well as the Gotham Award for “Tár,” Todd Field’s first directorial effort in 16 years. Even he seems a bit surprised by how everything has turned out.

Referring to Field’s 2001 directorial debut, Hoffmeister said, “‘In the Bedroom’ was a seminal film for me, because at the time I had just come out of film school. It had this real conviction about what arthouse cinema could be, so at that point in my life, it was just kind of a beacon of light. I would have never thought that 20 years later, I’d get to make a film with him. When he reached out, I didn’t really ask him any questions. I basically said, ‘Excited to meet you!’”

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The result of their collaboration is the enigmatic “Tár,” one of the most hotly debated movies of 2022. Hoffmeister simply used Field’s screenplay as the blueprint to create the film’s lush landscapes, filled with symmetry and symbolism that create a puzzle in the viewer’s head that lasts far longer than the 158-minute running time.

“In the script, you felt there was a form of detachment, you would read it and think, ‘Oh, this is not really about classical music,’” Hoffmeister said. “Some of it is, of course, but these underlying themes and realities would slowly come to you. So if you transfer that into the viewing experience, it implies that the camera has to have an observational attitude, to let this form of intimacy and knowledge within the audience while watching the film.”

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This visual intimacy is shown in various methods, most arrestingly in the way Cate Blanchett’s music-world titan is photographed from both high and low angles, in tight close-up or from remote distance, and sometimes even right beneath her, as seen in one of the thunderous conducting sequences. Hoffmeister’s camera also inhabits large spaces that all seem to descend upon her, giving off the spooky illusion that everyone is always watching her at all times.

Cate Blanchett in “Tár” (Focus Features)
Cate Blanchett in “Tár” (Focus Features)

“She is presenting herself either in concert to an audience of 1,000, or at the dinner with her benefactor (played by Mark Strong) to an audience of one,” he said. “Also, how she composes herself in her public persona, and then when she’s alone with her anxieties. It’s like she’s living in this open shadow to create this experience for the audience. And then there’s the scene of the book reading in New York (when her personal life begins to unravel), where Todd would say, ‘Oh, that should feel like surgery.’”

Read more from the Below-the-Line issue here.

TheWrap magazine below the line issue cover
Photo by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap

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