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Tár

*****
2022

‘…a ‘must see’ movie for anyone who gives a damn about the conflicted, complex world we all share…’

Fancy a 158 minute drama starring Cate Blanchett as a German conductor? While Todd Field’s Tár might sound like heavy going for the masses, it’s a far more hard-hitting and thought-provoking proposition that it might initially appear. An awards front runner in 2023, Tár deserves a hard-sell as a movie because it’s got a number of USP’s to exploit. It’s only Field’s third film as director after two stellar entries, In the Bedroom and Little Children, although he’s also an actor recognisable from his role as piano-player Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut. That’s quite a resume, and one accolade one might offer in Tár’s favour is that it’s the kind of fearless, steely, controlled movie that Kubrick would have been proud of.

Tár opens with a tease, we see Lydia Tár (Banchett) looking washed up on public transport, captured on a phone-screen with a text conversation developing. ‘Do you still love her?’ is the question, and Field’s film sets out to explore exactly who this striking, humbled woman is and what feelings her situation might evoke. We then dive into a ten minute interview scene in which conductor Tár expands her highly-developed musical philosophy to an obsequious interviewer in a packed, appreciative Q and A, and then a tense teaching moment in which Lydia comes into conflict with an ‘eager to be offended’ pangender student who doesn’t share her love of Bach due to the composer’s personal history. Tár is not just a conductor of music, she’s a conductor of ideas, able to quote Schopenhauer’s thoughts on the link between sensitivity to noise and creativity while  considering how racial issues might infuse the creation of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. Blanchett excels here at conveying a huge, astonishing personality, with a depth of knowledge and a teching ability to be proud of.

Such pride comes before a fall, and Tár’s abilities set her on a dangerous track; we see her home life with wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), her close understanding with assistant Francis (Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant), her disdain for social media, her meetings with her predecessor (Julian Glover) and her soon-to-retire assistant conductor (Allun Corduner), and a brief, telling scene in which she threatens a child. ‘She wasn’t one of us,’ she disdainfully comments on an ex-student, but when that student kills herself and leaves behind an accusatory note, our protagonist finds her world turned upside down by the social media pack that descends on her.

‘If she can ascend the scaffold, she can ascend the podium’ Francis suggests, and the reverse is also proved true; as a person, Lydia is everything she can and wants to be, a fully-functioning polymath who may or may not also be a monster in the eyes of judgmental social media. ‘Being accused is much the same as being guilty these days,’ comments her mentor when she goes for advice, before cryptically adding ‘I made sure all the hangers in my closet are facing the same direction.’

So who is Tar? Is she the ‘ultrasonic epistemic dissident’ that she describes? Tar has been described as an anti-woke movie, but it’s much more than just a polemic. Exploring a fragile post-lockdown world, Field hands Blanchett her best role since 2005’s Little Fish, giving an unforgettable performance that, whether it wins or not, will be the best of the awards season without a doubt. This is a slippery, subtle, engrossing film that lives up to Field and Blanchett’s considerable reputations, and speaks volumes about the time at which it was made. And although propping the ambiguity of the main character is very much the film’s strong-point, there are surprises here; if you’re in the business of guessing the endings of film and had ‘Marlon Brando’s escaped crocodiles’ on your plot-point bingo card, I salute you as a true visionary reader of cinema. Tár is a brilliant, controversial film that should spark debate about the influence of social media; much like Michael Hanke’s similarly themed Cache, it’s a ‘must see’ movie for anyone who gives a damn about the world we all share.

 

 

 

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  1. I was really impressed by Tar, so much more than just Blanchett’s excellent performance. Exceptionally well crafted and thoughtful direction, and an ambiguously slippery plot and script. As you note, it’s far too complex to be polemic. The long run-time felt too short at the end, I wanted more. I think I’ll give this a rewatch soon.

    • I’m on my second and it’s still rich. I wonder if this question about the real conductor, named in the film, and her disquiet about having elements of her life used means much. It seems provocative of the film-makers to do so, if they have done do deliberately, I can’t tell. But it retained an edge throughout, the performances were rich, the works believable, the fall from grace dramatic. It’s the full shilling as a piece of cinema.

      • It really is. I hadn’t realised there is a real life composer insinuated, although I gather that a lot of people believed that the fictional Lydia Tar was real – she even had her own Wikipedia page for a while! The film felt entirely believable. That initial extended on-stage interview took me right into the character. It seems it’s grossed only $5.7m against a $35m budget, sadly, so unless it cleans up at the Oscars (unlikely) probably won’t make much of an impression wiht the wider public, which is a shame as it’s superb.

  2. I’m intending to see this, though I’m disappointed that Nina Hoss is only in support and not in the lead role. I’ve nothing against Cate Blanchett who is always very good but Hoss in The Audition was mesmerising (as she has been in all her roles that I’ve seen) and there seem to be links between the two narratives. I’m intrigued by Todd Field’s 15 year gap during which none of his projects made it to the screen. So, now he ends up with what seems like a European film with major European actors including Néomie Merlant and Mark Strong alongside Hoss as well as a European crew – camera, editing design roles etc. and shooting in Berlin. Sounds interesting.

    • I’ll be keen to hear what you think of this; even on a second viewing, I’m finding much to appreciate. The British actors give it an unusual flavour, and although I’ve found Blanchett somewhat typecast as a vamp, she’s quite unrecognisable at times here, immersed in a character with the real dramatic art. Field may have difficulty getting things made, but he’s remarkably consistent so far. There is a backlash to the film, but discovering it for the first time is something worth anticipating. Hidden would be a useful comparison.

  3. What is a USP and how does one exploit them?

    While I’m all for railing against social media and the mob mentality, I have a much harder time actually blaming the platforms for people’s behavior.
    Facebook doesn’t push kids in front of buses. Twitter doesn’t make teens shoot themselves. It might facilitate the behavior that leads to that and I can understand dealing with it at that level, but why don’t people simply leave? That is what I simply don’t understand. And I realize that teens aren’t rational or in control of their feelings (but they are in control of their actions, let me make that clear) but even if they can’t make the decision to leave social media, why did their guardians let it go that far? Take away their phone. and I’ll stop there before I go into really ranty territory.

    2 1/2hrs seems really long for this kind of movie. As Riders pointed out, there seems to be a severe lack of “interesting” things to keep us masses happy. I propose that the directors cut turn the main character into an assassin who knocks off other conductors….

  4. I’m sort of fatigued on stories going to war against social media. I feel like social media is our age’s great scapegoat. I’m not hear to sing it’s praises, but social media seems to be at fault for everything in every article, book, and movie these days. How did we ever manage to get distracted, fight wars, and be ugly to one another before Facebook and Twitter.

    It sounds like Tar might be a deeper film, but I just can’t seem to drum up any enthusiasm to see it.

    • Think again! This is a human drama, and the ambiguity means that it can be about social media if you want it to be, but it’s about all kind of other things too; you wouldn’t say Eyes Wide Shut was just about sex parties. Although to be fair, allowing social media companies to not regulate their content or not be taxed has been a hugely destructive and dangerous experiment that has put our freedom and democracy in peril, and maybe this is the time to talk about it and
      fix it before the world vanishes down the toilet.

      The takeaway; leave your doubts at the door, this is a movie that you have to see.

  5. I don’t know. I really try to stay away from people who describe themselves as ultrasonic epistemic dissidents. It never ends well for either of us.

    I thought this was going to be a reboot of the Hunger Games franchise with that picture at the top.

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