Synopsis – Set in the international world of classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer/conductors and first-ever female chief conductor of a major German orchestra.
My Take – There is no doubt about the fact that Cate Blanchett is one of the finest actors working today. Having won Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator (2004) and Best Actress for Blue Jasmine (2013), along with being nominated six other times (including for this one), Blanchett continues to be the best part of every film she chooses to star in, and continues to leave her long lasting mark on every genre across the board.
Her latest, sees her pairing up with writer-director Todd Field, who returns to feature filmmaking after a gap of 16 years following his Oscar nominated works, In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006), and sees her cast in the rare profession of an Orchestra conductor.
Unsurprisingly, the resulting film is one of the best cinematic experiences I have ever had, not least of which is because of the towering, no holds barred performance from an absolutely magnetic Cate Blanchett.
Make no mistake, this one is not about music, but essentially a very strong character study about naked power in the rarefied world of classical music conducting. With not only the drama and psychological turmoil but also a hint of paranoia and thriller elements orchestrated around the fictional female conductor.
Though I had misgivings about being subjected to yet another tale about the whirlpools of discourse around #MeToo and cancel culture, the film possesses an emotional and intellectual honesty that makes it feel relatable and brilliantly cues up the film’s deeply mysterious and surreal final section.
Sure, the length of the production is excessive, about 158 minutes and, if you’re not a fan of classical music it may temper your enjoyment somewhat, but its central performance that will undoubtedly keep one glued throughout. Playing a perfectionist who is at the top of her game, Blanchett is fascinating and constantly mesmerizing in the role that that will undoubtedly win her the Academy award once again this year and will be recalled as one of her greatest works.
The story follows Lydia Tar (Cate Blanchett), who is widely considered as one of the greatest living composer-conductors alive. She’s a rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) from the classical field, the first ever female music director of a major German orchestra, a worldwide virtuoso, composer for films, and is on the cusp of releasing her book – Tar on Tar. Her music and her life has been a quest to uncover and discover what the composer meant with each piece. Also being obsessed with legacy, Lydia is finally tackling a piece she has never attempted before.
However, her life begins to unravel when one of her former scholarship students takes her own life, and her predatory behavior with those who work for her begins to emerge. As she struggles to get to the heart of the piece she is presenting with the Orchestra, she also has to try and avoid the impending storm from the outing of her behavior, manage her relationship with her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), their daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic), her long-suffering assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and deal with her temptation towards Olga Metkina (Sophie Kauer), a young up and coming Russian cellist.
Framed as an epic, shape-shifting drama about the downfall of a self-built genius, the film is creepy, hilarious, smart, achingly sad, and never less than an absolute riot throughout. From a story perspective, the film is not only successful on an emotional level, but also on a sheer interest level. Here, director Field gives us an insight into a world many will not have an understanding of, and in doing so perfectly paces the film to dole out the relevant information, while continuing that feeling of momentum.
His writing is so intense, you find yourself sucked into the film right from the very first frame. This is, first and foremost, a character study. The narrative is subordinate to the exploration of Lydia’s personality and the film doesn’t reveal everything and, since we are given an ending of sorts to Lydia’s arc, we don’t feel cheated by not knowing the absolute truth about the film’s central mystery.
With some interesting shots and camera movement that even surpasses what the action shows, Field‘s direction is equally strong. Despite its lengthy run time, the film never drags and never feels gratuitously long. It’s refreshing to sit through a film that exudes such quiet confidence in its story and lead actress that there’s no need to rush or amp things up to retain a viewer’s attention.
The film unfolds on its own terms and is willing to accept that Lydia’s story may not enthrall those weaned on blockbuster productions. That’s a testament to the incredible script-writing, direction and acting on display here, because it is so cohesively and engagingly written, so well-paced, and delivered with so much energy, that those nearly 3 hours fly by.
Sure, if you are not familiar with classical music, like myself, the entire first hour might be a bit difficult to sit through as the dialogue is packed with references to known classical music artists and works. However, this dies down gradually and the film becomes much more focused and simple to comprehend.
Of course, it helps that Cate Blanchett is incredible, but not in a showy way at all. Her conducting moments are especially awesome. No one but Blanchett could have delivered the imperious hauteur necessary for portraying a great musician heading for a crackup or a creative epiphany.
It also helps that she ably supported by Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Julian Glover, Vincent Riotta, Sydney Lemmon and Mark Strong. Sophie Kauer, making her acting debut, impresses as much with her diction and emoting as with her musical skills. On the whole, ‘Tár’ is an epic, eerie, excellent psychological drama anchored by an award worthy Cate Blanchett performance.
Directed – Todd Field
Rated – R
Run Time – 158 minutes