Updated: Oct 12, 2022
TÁR, the new film from director Todd Field after a 16-year hiatus, has a lot on its mind. The film is a rich exploration of what it means to be an artist today. It tells the story of a celebrated conductor who finds herself in an existential and public crisis. Cate Blanchett is fearless in this complicated character study, which forces us into the rarefied world of classical music and the arts. The film's major strengths are its trust in its audience to navigate the inner workings of her life as it falls apart and that never quite defines how we should feel about this complicated lead. Rare is a film about an artist that avoids self-aggrandizing or wallowing.
Blanchett is a tour de force in the film. Her performance is so complete and so natural that there is never a moment you don't believe in the character she is playing. In this case, she plays Lydia Tár, a woman who craves control and uses that drive to get what she wants. She is living in Berlin with her partner Sharon (Hoss), who is first chair violin, and daughter Petra. Lydia is preparing a performance of Mahler's Fifth, releasing her memoir, and recording an album. The person at her side is her loyal assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) who aims to be a conductor in the future.
TÁR opens with an extended interview where we learn a Wikipedia page's worth of facts about Lydia. By all accounts, it would seem her life is at a peak. Field soon begins to chip away at Lydia's control and in so doing, her fame and reputation. For much of the 158-minute film, we see a systematic dethroning of a celebrity due to their abuses of power. This is done through the incredible details of Lydia that begin to show us the darker sides of her. Why does she steal her partner's medication? Why is it so natural for her to threaten a young bully who is picking on her daughter?
Field steady direction never lets us feel we have a handle on how the film feels about Lydia and what is happening to her. This careful threading of nonjudgement is mesmerizing. Each scene gives us a new shade of who Lydia is, some that push us to her and others that repel us from her. Field is steady even through the darkly comedic punchline of an ending. It is a remarkable feat for both the actor and director.
Revealing any more would ruin the power of the film. It is the nuanced approach by both Field and Blanchett that will have you wanting to talk about this film long after seeing it. TÁR refuses any commentary and instead investigates the way in which modern artists have to reckon with a critical public about their every behavior. An early conversation Lydia has with her predecessor Aldo (Nicholas Hopchet) about the separation of art from artist clues you in on what a smart rumination this film is.
TÁR is a film that is fascinating by artists and how they work, especially when everything around them falls apart. The film requires patience initially but soon rewards. The biggest of those rewards is Blanchett's performance. It is one for the ages.