Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a world-famous composer and conductor in the peak of her career. She conducts an important Berlin based orchestra and is preparing a live recording of Mahler’s 5th symphony with them while releasing a biographical book. This is the setting of Todd Field’s latest film TÁR. The director is back after 16 years and Cate Blanchett is better than ever (if that’s even possible!). Lydia Tár feels as flesh and blood despite being a fictional character.
TÁR is a complex and complete portrait of an artist, full of small details that help make the characters feel real. We see Lydia driving her daughter to school and being interrupted by the neighbor while working for example. Some of these moments might not feel as necessary for story purposes, however since the story is Lydia Tár, it is needed to build her as a whole character, those small details make the film rich, giving Lydia a depth rare to see nowadays, especially when portraying women. Another thing that I found refreshing is to have a script written for a woman in her 50’s as the lead. Sometimes it feels as only young women have interesting lives when we watch films, which is obviously not true.
Cate Blanchett’s performance is impeccable and as the script, also full of details. The way she talks and moves make us understand what kind of person Tár is immediately. She is charged of a background and inner life. This might seem obvious, but it is not something easy to achieve. Her performance projects success and power. Blanchett embodies the artist, but a very different type of artist than herself. Without any big transformations to her appearance we are able to think that we are seeing a different person. The moments in which this is even stronger are when we see Lydia conducting the orchestra. The energy and gestures are fierce. I was surprised to see her speaking German and highly appreciated it.Her German accent is clear and is needed for the character.The variety of languages helped with the naturalism of the film.I personally think that this character might open the door for Blanchett’s third Academy Award.
The acting ensemble also delivers a great performance. It is pleasant to see a big amount of female characters surrounding the lead and sharing with her in a professional environment. Sure, the lead violinist, Sharin (Nina Hoss) is also Lydia’s wife, but as everything in Tár’s life, it seems to be a transactional relationship, as it is mentioned towards the last third of the film. Women can be led by success equally as men. They can also have desires and make mistakes. Power is transversal to all humans and its advantages are not restricted.
We come to understand these themes later in the film, though there are scenes that reference them at the beginning. The whole understanding of it comes when the lead character starts declining for the public view. There are many things going on during the feature, however a breaking point is when Lydia is accused of grooming young women after a musician she worked with committed suicide. This changes Lydia’s life. Which is interesting to me is to see a woman as the center of this scandal. Patriarchy is deep in our cultural roots and it is difficult to escape from. In TÁR it doesn’t matter that Lydia is a woman, her actions don’t differ much of a man’s with power. The problem of abuse is pointed out as rooted in power dynamics.
As mentioned, these themes become clear towards the end and are put in a subtle way until they explode. Maybe because Field doesn’t want to make a film about cancel culture only, but a complex representation of an artist. The film is built slowly, almost as we were watching the protagonist’s day to day life in real time. Many things are happening with Tár at the center. At the beginning it is hard to understand what story are we supposed to be following or whether there is going to be a story at all. However, the visuals of the film are so strong that it is not hard to feel immerse in it. Everything in the visuals seem to be related to the protagonist. The design is controlled and clean and the world seems as lacking chaos: As a clock.At the beginning of the film Lydia Tár is being interviewed and mentions that as a conductor she controls time. When to start and when to stop. She as conductor has control and power and this is aesthetically and thematically reflected on the film.
To be honest, the only aspect of the film that seemed disappointing to me was the music. Even though the sound design is good I felt that it lacks of memorable music moments and I was truly expecting to hear them. The moments where Elgar’s cello concerto is performed create that excitement but are short compared to the length of the film.
I think that TÁR is a film worth seeing but not for everybody. For a film made by a major production company it doesn’t feel highly commercial. It is slow and intimate and belongs more to the auteur cinema classification. It might result boring to spectators that are looking for entertainment only, it tries to be accurate with portraying the orchestra environment which makes the dialog cryptic. I think that it is a film for those who look for unique experiences. Field is a meticulous director who delivers an elegant result.