Lydia Tár is the most decorated conductor ever to live. The recipient of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award, she has conducted symphonies in Philadelphia and New York and is a guest lecturer at Julliard. She is one of the most respected individuals in her field, and despite her legacy, she has to answer for ongoing gender disparity in music. She is a self-described U-Haul lesbian, an expert in musicology, and unafraid to defend her positions with charm and confidence.
Lydia Tár is also a monster, master manipulator, and calculated exploiter who uses her position of power to trade sexual favors for promotions.
"Tár" is the first movie in 16 years for writer/director Todd Field ("Little Children") and only the third in his feature film directorial filmography. Starring Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, this psychological drama is a character study through and through. A true performance piece for an actor that deserves much attention during awards season. It's a riveting portrayal of cancel culture in a flip-of-the-script concept that sees a woman at the highest echelon in her field, only to be slowly taken down a peg by the changing landscape of social media and the #MeToo era.
The film starts in New York, where a Q&A interview seems to beef up Lydia Tár's ego and present a narrative of the conductor that fits her carefully crafted brand. But of course, if one is introduced as "at the top of their game," it should be assumed the film will recall her inevitable downfall. Much of our story takes place in Berlin, where Tár is rehearsing with her orchestra to perform a concert of famed German composer Gustav Mahler's work. We meet her wife, Sharon, daughter Petra, and an ensemble cast of players that make up the orchestra she's worked hard to protect.
There's also a rumor that one of Tár's former players might be stirring up trouble in America with accusations that the conductor tanked her career on purpose. While faceless to the moviegoing audience, it's an ominous figure hanging over Tár like a housefly that won't go away. While rehearsals are underway in Berlin, Tár's stranglehold over her professional and personal life begins to unravel. She is the conductor of her own life, but the music simply isn't flowing in her intended direction. The stress of her upcoming concert, her marriage crumbling, and her reputation on the line sends Tár into a downward spiral.
With a runtime of nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, "Tár" hits the right notes and doesn't fall flat, but it seems to miss a beat here and there. Presented like an old-school picture with five minutes of credits before the action starts, it reflects a mood of coercion and antiquated techniques that vibe well with Lydia Tár's approach to her craft, even when the times are changing around her. She revels in knowing that conducting is not a democracy. Tár idolizes famous conductors of the past who got away with bad behavior in favor of artistic genius before something like "cancel culture" ever existed. She strives to separate the art from the artist, just as she presents a facade in her own life.
Blanchett understood the assignment when faced with playing a character like Lydia Tár. Charming and seductive, the actor performs a delicate balancing act of intimidation and magnetism. As Tár trips over herself to become her own saboteur, Blanchett is there to prop her up with sophistication, bravado, and a hint of elitism. Her unwavering commitment to music and holding attention shines brightly through Blanchett's masterstrokes, even when Tár's past indiscretions bubble up to the surface.
Field is the conductor of a slow-moving piece of music in "Tár" that never quite lifts its audience off the ground. If not for Cate Blanchett's stellar take on a fictional creative genius, the movie wouldn't work. For a film that discusses music and its parallels to life, there isn't much music played in the actual movie. There are times when Field looks to be having a bit of fun with his creation, however, like in sequences of Lydia Tár getting tortured by a metronome as if it's the heart-thumping sound in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." By the time the big performance in Berlin comes around, pure mayhem ensues, and Field's ending is a bit overdramatic yet oddly compelling.
"Tár" is a commentary on cancel culture and the new world older professionals find themselves in, especially those in leadership positions who don't seem to understand that everything said or done will find its way on video. In a world of unoriginal robots, Lydia Tár stands above the rest.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟1/2