Tár Review


PLOT: In the days leading up to the debut of her magnum opus, musician Lydia Tár’s carefully compartmentalized life begins to shatter amid rumors of inappropriate, predatory conduct.

REVIEW: Tár marks director Todd Field‘s first movie in sixteen years, and for lack of a better term, it’s a banger. Like In the Bedroom and Little Children, it’s a deeply layered work, but it’s a shattering portrait of the privilege of prestige and talent. Cate Blanchett delivers perhaps a career-best performance in the lead.

Many will call this the “cancel culture” movie, and to some extent, it is. It’s a nuanced portrait of an artist watching their world crumble around them in real time. Tár is being hoisted on her own petard here, but many critics have taken to calling this film “anti” cancel-culture because Field evokes some empathy for his central figure. That said, she’s also presented as something of a monster, which is a fact that I believe is either escaping certain critics or something they’re conveniently dismissing to further their interpretation of the film.

As the movie opens, Blanchett’s Lydia Tár is among the most celebrated musicians in the world. We’re introduced to her being interviewed by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik (playing himself) as he runs down her many accomplishments. She’s even an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner. When we meet her, she’s on the cusp of completing a cycle of Gustav Mahler symphonies, following in the footsteps of her mentor Leonard Bernstein. She’s the head of a significant German orchestra and lives a life of privilege, with her jetting around and rarely needing to discuss anything but her work and music with anyone. She lives in a fantasy world where she’s always the most important person in the room. Any domestic issues fall to her wife, Sharon, played by Nina Hoss, and her devoted assistant, an aspiring conductor named Francesca (Noémie Merlant).

However, Tár has a problem, with her being stalked by a former protege that she tells everyone is disturbed. Throughout the movie, the truth begins to reveal itself, with the protege, Krista, just another in a long list of pretty women the musician took under her wing for certain “favors” and discarded when she was done with them. Not only that, but as the affair ended in a way that displeased Tár, she made it impossible for Krista ever to get any work in their insular world again.

Indeed, Tár is a terrible person. But she’s also a supremely talented, passionate one. She’s capable of great art, and the question is, as the movie unfolds, what becomes of someone like her when they’ve crossed the line so many times that there may be no coming back? Like many others in her world, Blanchett’s Tár is used to being able to do whatever she wants, with morality never something she thought much about.

Blanchett is an actress that’s always specialized in larger-than-life characters, and this might be one of her best performances ever. With her arch manner and razor-sharp cheekbones, she’s intimidating-looking. There’s a great scene early on where Tár lectures at Julliard and challenges a student named Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist – great in memorable part). Identifying as a BIPOC (as opposed to how Tár describes herself as a “U-Haul lesbian”), he dismisses Bach by saying he’s not into music by cisgender white men. Tár demolishes him for his dismissal of such a large canon of work in a scene that apparently drew applause during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Most tellingly, he dismisses her as a “bitch” when she challenges him, but the verbal joust comes back to haunt her.

And that’s what will make Tár endure beyond the moment. One could argue this movie is “very 2022” in how it addresses the pandemic and the culture. Still, while Blanchett’s character ultimately is shown to be deserving of her fate, she never really loses her humanity. Likewise, her talent is immense, even if she’s a bad person in many ways. What do we do with people like Tár when they’ve been exposed? Is there a way back? Field’s film doesn’t pretend to know the answer, ending the film on a provocative, but ambiguous final scene.

While Blanchett’s show, Field surrounds her with an excellent cast, with Hoss terrific as her wife, who’s willing to turn a blind eye. Merlant has a complex role, as the adoring would-be composer being groomed by Tár for a more significant role in the orchestra, but also forced not only to cater to her whims. This means serving her both as an employee and occasional lover. This is the pattern of abuse that’s happened repeatedly with Tár, and we follow her as she grooms yet another young addition to the orchestra, a Russian cellist named Olga (Sophie Kauer). That she does this while she knows her world will come crashing down around her is what makes her such a compelling protagonist. She knows she’s coming to a bad end, but still thinks she’ll somehow be excused, even if we as an audience know better (thanks in part to Hildur Guðnadóttir increasingly foreboding score).

Hopefully, Tár won’t just be the kind of movie critics rave about while audiences stay away because it deserves to be appreciated on a larger scale. Like Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, it exists as both art and entertainment. Still, it also says a lot about how we, as people, cannot help but destroy ourselves even if we know better. Todd Field has made a lengthy (close to 3 hours) masterpiece that will stand the test of time even if it goes under-appreciated now. It’s one of the great movies of our era.

TÁR (movie)



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.