2022, R, 157 min. Directed by Todd Field. Starring Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Mark Strong, Allan Corduner, Adam Gopnik, Sylvia Flote, Mila Bogojevic.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 21, 2022
The personage of Lydia Tár (Blanchett) is so towering and detailed that that it’s possible to forget that she is a work of fiction and not real. A symphonic conductor and music composer, the character is such a well-known icon of Western culture that the title of this movie needs no lure other than her singular name.
Writer/director Todd Field, who says he created the role of Tár with Cate Blanchett in mind to play the legend, gifts us with a rare thing with his third film: a character study of a complicated and commanding woman whom we meet at the top of her game. TÁR burrows into the discrepancies between the public image of Lydia Tár and her personal shortcomings.
The multilayered opening scenes of the film mirror the character’s complexities. We get glimpses of her perfectionism and tics as she waits offstage to be introduced to a rapturous audience, but instead of taking the podium to conduct an orchestra as we might expect she takes a seat beside The New Yorker’s cultural critic Adam Gopnik for an in-depth interview. Further complicating our distinctions between fact and fiction is the fact that Gopnik is a real New Yorker critic and their conversation continues at such great length that we begin to forget that we’re watching a movie and not a fascinating discussion. Blanchett as Tár captivates and dazzles with her deeply felt and articulated ideas about music and life.
But even as this extensive interview establishes the character’s bona fides and extraordinary accomplishments, some discomfiting if not fully explicable images also enter the frame. An unidentified hand is seen amending a Wikipedia page. Tár’s assistant Francesca (Merlant) silently mouths the words spoken by Gopnik in his introduction to Tár’s career. And an anonymous gift is left for the conductor (which she opens and, visibly upset, quickly disposes of in an airplane bathroom). An extended sequence of a Juilliard master class reveals Tár’s mercilessness as a teacher as she confronts a student for prioritizing politics over music by declaring his inability to relate to the work of the patriarchal titans of Western music. These little imperfections in the visage of the mighty Tár lead us to expect some explanation and rectification later on down the line.
TÁR doesn’t take any form we are familiar with in music biographies on film. It is neither hagiographic nor some kind of classical music world’s version of Behind the Music. Although at the peak of her career, it is clear Tár is heading for a fall. She lives in Berlin in a committed relationship with her partner Sharon (Hoss) and their daughter. Sharon is also the first violinist in the Berlin orchestra that Tár conducts. Eventually, the cancel culture that Tár condemns during the Juilliard master class arrives for her.
As masterful as the character it portrays, TÁR is a textured, finely calibrated, stunningly composed, and thoroughly contemporary study. Its chords reverberate long after the music fades.