Written by: Todd Field
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner
The alluring aspect of power comes from the level of control you can have over others. Imagine, individuals all around this world created equal with free will but with a certain level of power, you can determine their destiny, reshape their lives, and even end it. With that being said, it makes sense why many would give up everything in order to possess this attribute. However, the changing balance of power and where it lies makes it difficult to always maintain power, which is what makes Tár such a captivating viewing experience.
World-renowned orchestra conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) has the admiration and respect of everyone around her for her enormous list of accomplishments in the world of music. Something that has allowed her ego to reach the point where she believes she’s become invulnerable to the ideas and feelings of others. However, when things begin to shift, her career and social standing begin to decline.
Classical music often gets correlated with frigidity and stuffiness as its prominence in social circles has gone back for centuries. Artists like Beethoven and Mozart are still renowned to this day and one thing most of these famous musicians had in common was their gender and race. It’s what makes the central character of Lydia Tár an intriguing perspective to enter this realm and the power she holds in the space. Everything in the orchestra is so structured with specific placements and ways in which these instruments must be played in order to follow the instructions of the conductor. That individual standing at the podium has so much power as aptly discussed by Lydia in the opening scene where she referenced controlling time itself. When one thinks they have that type of power it would not be too far of a stretch to believe that they would wield a similar type of power in other aspects of their lives. That is, essentially, where Lydia Tár begins her downfall and this precipitous fall definitely has plenty to say about how power shifts in our contemporary culture.
One thing Tár can certainly be acclaimed for is being a conversation starter and its searing screenplay makes sure to display distinct perspectives and not necessarily provide what side it sits on. When speaking on ideas like “cancel culture” there’s a very pointed conversation about the idea of separating the artist from the art. A wide-ranging conversation about what it means to appreciate the art of individuals who have proven to be terrible in their personal lives. It’s something I personally struggle with when it comes to filmmakers and during this feature it centers on a conversation about Bach and how BIPOC students react to having to idolize these figures. A complex discussion that creates room for dialogue not only about the subject at hand but also about what individuals want from their films.
All films have messages and the way they communicate them, either bluntly or subtly exist and can be analyzed and dissected if one wants to put in the effort. Seeing as I have a site all about analyzing films, I very much fall in the demographic of those trying to parse through the messages in them. Todd Field, through his writing and directing, purposefully does not indicate what side he lands on, which allows for ambiguity and leaves so much up to interpretation. It makes it quite refreshing to experience what this film presents as a narrative. Something that gets the gears turning; definitely something to be thankful for.
Working as a character study with quite a robust runtime, this feature gives us plenty of time with Tár as she slowly starts to lose it all. We build sympathy for her because we see what this all means to her but also can understand how her ego gets in the way and eventually stands as the root of her downfall. With her grinning to see and hear things that may not exist, this deterioration occurs on a multi-faceted level and when it reaches its boiling point, you can somewhat understand how we got there but still have no idea where she goes next. This leaves much of the film to lay on Cate Blanchett’s shoulders and it would be hard to find a more capable actor to depend on.
Ever-impressive, Blanchett puts in a defining performance for her career, which is certainly saying something given the body of work she has on her resume. With this character, she plays someone you both respect but can despise at times because of the way she treats others. She has to do this balancing act that may have you sway in your opinion of her but always remains interesting throughout the feature. She handles everything the script throws at her like the professional we all know her to be and she truly dazzles in this challenging role.
Tár invites you down the rabbit hole of a fictional figure that definitely feels like they could be a real person and the societal questions it raises do not come with answers but definitely starts a conversation. Part of me wanted Field to bring more perspective into the film, but I certainly respect what he crafts here.