Tàr Review

Todd Field’s Tár is told from the myopic perspective of its title character played masterfully by Cate Blanchett. This is a disconcerting and wildly original choice and it’s a perfect one upon reflection. We as the audience, in a two hour and 40 minute burn, slowly discover more about a conductor’s conduct. We don’t really see it and that seems right because she doesn’t either. At least Lydia Tár won’t acknowledge it and doesn’t appear capable of doing so.

Being celebrated in a packed house interview by The New Yorker, Tár has climbed the composition ladder to the top. Now the chief conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic, she’s a rare EGOT recipient (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). Having written a book grandly titled Tár On Tár, her orchestra and her scholars (she guest lectures at Juilliard on occasion) hang on her every motion and word. Almost. We catch an early glimpse of a student challenging her and it’s not a pretty sight. It’s surreptitiously filmed for social media consumption and that causes embarrassment (more for the team around her than the ambivalent lecturer).

This is nothing compared to what’s coming. Tár’s personal life is in a constant state of hinted perilousness. At first, her marriage to violin player Sharon (Nina Hoss) seems ideal with their young daughter and lush surroundings. However, the separate apartment that Tár keeps raises flags. Personal assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) is in line for a huge promotion from her boss. There’s unclear happenings from the past that keep her from elevating. Most disturbingly, a young colleague and perhaps former lover is alleging misdeeds from the grave.

Our window into Tár’s newsworthy liabilities are showcased mostly through her budding relationship with a gifted (at least as her mentor immediately sees it) Russian cellist (Sophie Kauer). There is a creeping feeling of the narcissism and transactional nature of all her interactions. When she’s performing her lauded work, a wave of the hand silences rehearsal. A figurative wave of the hand seems to flick away individuals who are no longer useful.

As her world starts to crumble, we witness it through Tár’s point of view. It is one in which there’s a refusal to tolerate increasing voices speaking up. Field, in his first picture in 16 years, trains his camera on Blanchett in nearly every frame. His screenplay has created a multifaceted character with potentially unforgivable shortcomings and undeniable gifts.

Blanchett’s transformation into this complicated figure is its own work of art. She’s mesmerizing and awards voters may grant landslide reactions. Hoss and Merlant provide impressive support as their characters hang on to the last remnants of assistance in their unbalanced bonds with The Maestro.

When the curtain finally falls on Tár, it does so surprisingly. It left me questioning what the film was trying to say about artistic genius and the lengths such a prodigy will go to maintain their control and image. This is a challenging, deliberative, and rewarding experience. You can’t dismiss the wave of the many strong hands involved, especially the lead.

***1/2 (out of four)

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