Classic Blanchett

Classic Blanchett

The titular character of Tár may be fictional, but Cate Blanchett's sounding out of a troubled mind is disconcertingly real

Classic Blanchett
Cate Blanchett as musical prodigy Lydia Tár.

Tár is set in the contemporary world of Western classical music and centres on Lydia Tár, one of the world's most prolific composer-conductors and first ever female music director of a major German orchestra. While the film has the look and feel of a biopic, Lydia Tár is a fictional character. As portrayed here by Cate Blanchett, she's at the absolute height of her career and there seems to be no limit to what she's able to achieve. She's smart, talented, passionate about music and is ready to take her career to new heights. We see her as she goes about preparing to release her book titled Tár On Tár, as well as conduct a concert in which she tackles Mahler's most complex musical piece, the Fifth Symphony.

However, this is where the trouble begins as some of Lydia's questionable past actions start catching up with her. We watch as she tries to navigate a series of internal struggles and the scandals that haunt her, the film's focus moving from an observation of the sumptuous lives of people in the fine art world to the unfolding of a gothic-tinged psychological thriller. Everything is crumbling around her and there's a sense of great tension. The film's director and writer, Todd Field, has set about examining power from various angles: the hierarchy of power, the ways that gaining or losing power affects the ego, power's effect on art and culture as well as wider society, power within personal relationships -- all aspects of it.

The movie challenges viewers to engage in nuanced conversations about very charged topics such as identity politics, power dynamics, cancel culture separating the art from the artist, and the idea of achieving greatness in the modern world.

The movie opens with her being interviewed by a real-life journalist from The New Yorker magazine, Adam Gopnik, who makes a surprise cameo appearance. Also early in the film is a lot of discussion about musical theory and composition and specific composers, some of them not widely known. However, don't let that scare you away if you're not a musician or don't have knowledge about music, because the film's true subject isn't the world of classical music but the world inside Lydia's head. For instance, in the Gopnik interview she talks about her ability to stop and start time while leading an orchestra.

It's one of many complexities about the character. Despite her talent and great ability as an artist, Lydia Tár may not be the nicest person you'll meet. But you can't help but be fascinated by her. It's compelling the way the character manipulates and gaslights everyone around her so shrewdly and brilliantly. The effect is darkly hilarious and terrifying.

Tár United International Pictures (Far East)

Many people have been talking about Cate Blanchett's performance in this movie. And yes, she does not disappoint. Blanchett delivers a career-best performance with an astonishing level of depth and control. It's impressive that she is able to maintain such a high level of intensity and make the character so alive and real. She's given many great performances over the years, but this is definitely among the top three, up there with her performance in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (2013). Others have compared this movie with another music-related film, Whiplash (2014); it reminds me as well of Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread (2017). Both films examine the complexity of the mind of an artist and what greatness does to someone who has achieved it.

I can't praise enough the vision of director Todd Field here. From the excellent cast, the precise cinematography and editing to the eerie score, in addition to the production design -- all these elements come together to make Tár one of the best and most thought-provoking films of the year. It's also the kind of film that warrants repeated viewings as there's so much detail to take in.

The film likewise doesn't pass judgement on its lead character or anyone she interacts with. It doesn't lecture the audience or feel preachy. It simply presents the characters to us, shows us their actions, and allows us to make up our own minds. Tár is a movie that trusts the intelligence of the viewer. It wants to start a discussion rather than tell you what to think or how to feel, which is something that has become increasingly rare in modern cinema.

  • Tár
  • Starring Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant
  • Directed by Todd Field
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