- Nate Adams
'Tár' review: Cate Blanchett astounds in Todd Field's thrilling character study
Courtesy of Focus Features
A modern artist with a deeply egocentric personality who finds herself in the middle of a componence during the #MeToo era, Lydia Tár had it all until she didn’t. So charts the tale of Todd Field’s widely inventive, near three-hour magnum opus “Tár,” about a fictional conductor who feels like the poster child for toxic narcissism and self described as a “U-Haul” lesbian. In a near career defining role, Oscar winner Cate Blanchett bleeds, sweats, speaks fluent German, and conducts on the spot as she confronts a digital age that doesn’t seem keen on honoring the past. In fact, it almost would rather forget it.
Marking Field’s first movie in nearly 16-years, “Tár” finds its main character on the cusp of a mid-life crisis even she couldn’t have predicted. Already in rare company as both an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) and the first female director of the Berlin Philharmonic, the just turned 50 Maestro is desperately looking for relevance. Will it come with her new memoir, “Tár on Tár?” Or finding ingenious ways of dismantling Juilliard students of color who refuse to study Johann Sebastian Bach because of the inherent misogyny that exists within their work? Perhaps a bit of both and, as unspooled during a lengthy 20-minute opener that basically sums up her career and accomplishments word-for-word across from the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, she loves a challenge. After all, you don’t get to where she is without making sacrifices.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase: “separate the art from the artist” there’s a good chance, at least in Field’s world, Lydia Tár probably coined it. She belittles others who are so easily offended and yet isn’t afraid to intervene when her daughter (Mila Bogojevic) complains about a bully at school. In one of the film's humorous moments, Lydia confronts the seven-year-old bully and intimidates her with slick word play: “I’ll get you.” If only her daily life could be as easy as talking down to children: at work, the dynamics are relatively the same although not without some blowback and constructive criticism. It’s probably the reason she enjoys spending so much time alone following a daily itinerary that includes private jets, international travel, bougie lunches with colleagues (shout-out Mark Strong!) and contentious board meetings about who is making the cut on her orchestra roster.
At home, things aren’t much better, Lydia’s wife (Nina Hoss) never seems invested in the relationship and appears content with going through the motions for the sake of their kid and workplace (she plays in Tár’s pit) and it results in the occasional battle where insults are thrown, and morals are put into question. None more so than when a former student in Tár’s past resurfaces with a litany of shocking allegations, resulting in serious blowback and, for once, takes the control away from the Maestro.
From there, Field conducts “Tár” with pose and gentle subtly, opting for more off-center profiles as the conflict ramps up, creating a sense of desperate uneasiness. This is a quiet movie, but when Blanchett hits the podium, it truly sings. And the mesmerization of watching a seasoned actress’s ability to command the scene with her fluent German and demonstrating conduction with the strength of an army is overwhelming, solidifying this as authentic a portrayal you’ll likely see all year. From the opening shot to the final frame, the aftershocks of Tár linger alongside Hildur Guðnadóttir’s tantalizing score, helping cultivate one of the year's most unforgettable cinematic experiences.
TÁR is now playing in limited release and will expand to additional cities before going wide on October 28th.