What can’t Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) accomplish in her illustrious life. Aside from a seemingly endless list of career accolades and awards for being one of the most brilliant composer-conductors, Lydia is a cultural icon, a world traveler, well-spoken, has perfect pitch and a curator of cultures. On top of that, Tár was mentored by the legendary Leonard Bernstein and in-line to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic as the first female conductor with her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) as the concertmaster. With all the good in Lydia’s life, writer/director Todd Field juxtaposes a darker side to being one of the most popular and in-demand artists working in the world.
Starting out with an interview hosted by Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker, Tár has all the attention and buzz placed on her – promoting upcoming projects, modestly basking in the spotlight. It’s quite a lengthy opening scene, the camera, operated by cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister zooms in on the two, switching back and forth, deep in conversation with the audience hanging on every single word spoken. It’s here that Field gives all the information necessary for Tár as a human. Brilliant, but flawed. It’s also in this opening scene that will get the viewer on board – committing to the lengthy runtime and odd pacing selection while simultaneously discovering a woman on the brink of self-annihilation.
After the initial interview, Tár follows the titular character through everyday life – adding an ordinary verisimilitude and a sense of relatability to the icon. Tár, teaches a class at Juilliard, has lunch with another fellow conductor and manager of her fellowship program Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong) and flies’ home to be with her wife where the two discuss pain medication and dance to a record. Outside of being famous, talented and an auteur, Tár lives just like the rest of us. Her fame does not shield her from the complexities of life and the clout she possess.
First and foremost, Tár is a scrutinizing, self aware character study. Its characters aren’t overly exaggerated versions of humans normally portrayed. These are real people with opinions, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and motivations, imitating real life. Actions have consequences, and decisions are met with criticism. At first what feels like a collection of scenes that may feel disjointed from one another, with no connective tissue wind up organically coming together becoming the center of the screenplay.
Full of undertones pushing the story along, a line of dialogue or two, building on the previous scene’s conversations. Subtle hints of the direction are placed by Field throughout, making an impact when least expected. As a celebrity, Lydia is under constant scrutiny, every action is watched like a hawk, every word said is discussed and dissected, under a microscope. When we meet Lydia, she’s set in her ways, the earth revolves around her and she uses it to her advantage, abusing it at points regardless of the repercussions.
Led by an energetic performance by Cate Blanchett, the actress is at her best, the moment Lydia appears on screen. Blanchett is hypnotizing and fierce to watch and stunning with every line of dialogue spoken. Just like the audience that was there for the New Yorker interview, you’re drawn to her, enamored by her presence, silently celebrating her during the highs and rooting for her during the downfall despite the flaw in her character. When one thing goes wrong and snowballs out of control however, Lydia doesn’t change, she’s stubborn that way, putting the blame on others like her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) or her assistant conductor Sebastian (Allan Corduner). One thing is certain about Blanchett’s performance – she is an early contender for best actress pouring her soul into Lydia. Each movement of the Maestro’s baton is both dazzling and impressive, channeling enough force to rival a hurricane.
Plucking Lydia from her head in the clouds is the films heart and soul, Sharon played by Nina Hoss with an absolute sincerity to her performance. Sharon is there to remind Lydia that she has somewhat of a conscience but leave it to fame to cloud judgment. It’s the heavy burden of expected perfection that keeps Lydia up at night, hearing noises that are figments of her imagination over and over until it drives her crazy. Trapped notes with no one to hear them be played. A metronome blaring in the silence, knocks on the door of her apartment where she sleeps most nights and rehearses with the new Cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer).
Tár is a masterclass in storytelling, simple in delivery, yet profound in execution. A severe reminder that just because you are at the peak of your career, it doesn’t make you immune to your actions. On the outside, Lydia is something we strive to be – perfect, but below the surface is a haunted, perversion, unsatisfied with every choice that is made. It’s easy to watch someone rise to the top of their career, achieving every ounce of success without any roadblocks. Watching them lose it all and adapt to the environment makes for a much more compelling story.
158 minutes long with enough fat to be trimmed down to make for a tauter film, Tár moves at its own natural pace. Cut in with edits of a Wikipedia page revisions and social media live stories making a mockery of Lydia, Field reminds us that fame isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Lydia falls victim to this, trapped in quicksand and never once recovers.
Screenplay By: Todd Field
Directed By: Todd Field
Music By: Hildur Guðnadóttir
Cinematography: Florian Hoffmeister
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong
Release Date: October 7, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 38 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%