Difficult and complex, Todd Field’s TÁR engages the audience in a number of conversations about genius artists and narcissism, all buoyed by a towering performance from Cate Blanchett.
Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár, a wealthy and world-famous conductor preparing a symphony for the Berlin Philharmonic. Lydia juggles her busy schedule and the demands on her attention with the help of her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant). She is married to the concertmaster Sharon (Nina Hoss) and they have a daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic).
Lydia faces the legal and personal pressures when a former lover commits suicide. Simultaneously, Lydia begins to fixate on a new cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer). As the pressure builds and Lydia begins to unravel, things start to boil over in her personal and professional life.
While never condoning her actions, the film shows just how far people are willing to accept terrible behavior for the sake of genius. No one ever questions Lydia’s talent and what she pulls out of her orchestras, but the devious behavior and problematic aspects of her life are talked in hushed tones. Everyone knows but nobody says anything. How willing are we to accept a level of behavior just for the sake of art? There is a line, but where is that line exactly? Is the standard the same for a lesbian woman than it would be for a straight man?
Even Lydia’s likeability is never really in question. She is allowed to be an asshole simply because of her results. Her relationships may suffer and the world around her is broken down, but that orchestra is better for it. Why is genius synonymous with difficulty? Field and Blanchett may be having an inside joke about the insufferable nature of method actors. They seem to convey that genius and kindness can go hand in hand, but that genius allows you to act like you wouldn’t be allowed to act if you weren’t that genius.
I was extremely onboard with the what the film was presenting for the majority of the runtime. There is a shift with about 15 minutes remaining that knocked the film down. It harkens back to Hays Code righteous retribution that didn’t sit well with me. There was a very specific scene where the film could have ended and I would have left the theater floating on air with plans for a perfect rating. Unfortunately, the film continued. The ending doesn’t soften the power of the great majority of what preceded it, but I can’t judge the film as a whole without thinking about those damning last 15 minutes.
Blanchett dominates the screen. It sounds like hyperbole to say it’s one of the greatest performances of her career, but its undeniable. She plays Lydia with such profound condescension and absolutism. Lydia knows she is the smartest person in the room and Blanchett never misses a step with that same conviction. Her presentation of a musical genius doesn’t feel like an actor pretending. Blanchett transcends the actorly notes and wears Lydia like a second skin. It’s a fully-realized character and a transformative performance.
That doesn’t mean Blanchett is the lone acting bright spot. Merlant plays Francesca with her own secrets, but maintains a level of dignity and humanity that Lydia never has. Hoss has less dialogue, but speaks volumes with her eyes. Sharon isn’t naïve, but she isn’t stupid either. Hoss adds layers to a character that should be fairly one-note. Bogojevic provides some bubbly spirit to characters who are otherwise rather droll.
Field treats it all like a horror movie. Lydia’s hyper-sensitivity to sound and insomnia play like a virus. Each interaction has the potential for violence, even though there has never been any inclination of violence to come. This doesn’t mean it’s all deathly serious either. Field’s script adds some much needed occasional levity in order to break the near constant tension.
Undeniably difficult and sure-to-be divisive, TÁR isn’t for everyone. But, if you can get on the same wavelength as Field and Blanchett, the film proves to be an unforgettable experience, one way or the other.
TÁR is now playing in theaters
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We get this in the UK in January. Looking forward to it. Have you seen this film? https://opinionoftheday650548878.wordpress.com/2022/11/04/french-film-friday-le-feu-follet/