Written By Hayden Claborn, Entertainment Reviewer
Tár is an exquisite piece of entertainment. It lures in the audience with specificity and has them get lost in a complex narrative that unfolds with masterful precision (held together by a bravura performance from Cate Blanchett). The 158 minute runtime might seem daunting at the outset but filmmaker Todd Field (Little Children, In The Bedroom) holds you in a death grip, letting you savor every last detail.
Lydia Tár is one of the greatest composers of all time and the first ever chief female conductor of a major German orchestra. In a clever bit of exposition, Lydia’s accomplishments are listed off early by someone doing an on-stage interview in New York. We learn she’s an EGOT winner and has a new book coming out. Her latest challenge is doing the 5th symphony of composer Gustav Mahler, supposedly his most challenging.
The first scene I felt my ears perk up and body leaning forward is when Lydia teaches a class at Juilliard. The extended scene is a masterpiece of writing, acting, and tension. It’s the first time we encounter darkness within Lydia. She fixates on a black student named Max and guffaws at the idea of Bach being problematic. She comments how Max’s soul has been shaped by social media. Yes, Tár is in part a film about cancel culture and current day political correctness. But Field placing us outside of Lydia’s head creates something more than a Boomer rant.
Tár rings the bells for the end of idolatry. No longer can we fully accept celebrity. Lydia has skeletons in her closet and soon becomes a villain in her own story. However, the villain is too binary. Field and Blanchett do tremendous legwork making her seem like a real person to the extent that you could’ve convinced me the film is based on a real composer. In one scene you’re intimidated and the next you laugh; the film is darkly funny as well. It’s impossible not to see humanity in Blanchett’s performance.
What we come to realize is that the myth of Lydia Tár isn’t just facilitated by others but by herself. She buys into her own status of genius. The verbosity of her intellect is a facade and pushes the act to its absolute limitations.
There are plenty of supporting players to keep your eye on. Lydia’s wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) is a fascinating character. The film could’ve easily made her the hopeless, clueless wife but she is fully aware of Lydia’s manipulation. Noémie Merlant plays perhaps the most tragic figure who suffers the most gaslighting, thinking that her devotion will lead to something greater.
The filmmaking is less experonsitic than you’d expect from a film about composition. Every once and a while cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister dips his toe into grandeur, having the camera thrillingly face up at Blanchett as she conducts. There is a calm and steady feel to the shots. Field executes a reserved style, allowing the audience to chew on the magnificentence of the music.
2022 has been a good year for movies but few left me buzzing the way Tár did. Hours later I found myself obsessing over the beautifully tailored costumes designed by Bina Daigeler and the brutalist architecture displayed in Lydia’s apartment. It’s one of the few times I desired to go back and actively take notes about a film. It’s a #MeToo movie that not only has the accused at the center of the action but doesn’t feel cheap. It’s a deeply psychological and cerebral affair bursting with hirewire innovation. Tár is one of the boldest American films in recent memory.