One of the most fascinating films of the year, “Tár” lets the chips fall where they may, including what director Todd Field’s true feelings are on the protagonist and whether art can truly be extricated from the view of the artist.
“Tár” follows famous classical composer Lydia Tár as she is rehearsing and preparing for a recorded concert. Per usual, Cate Blanchett is a powerhouse on the screen, perfectly encapsulating a figure in music that everyone holds a respect for and wants admiration from. Blanchett’s portrayal of intelligence and hubris are felt in every word of dialogue she speaks, but what is scarier and more impressive is what she doesn’t say. Tár never lets her guard down for anyone to penetrate, and shows very little genuine affection for anyone except for her daughter. After witnessing her ego-stroking — albeit entrancing — conversations, the complexity of Tár promptly arrives in the film with the introduction of her daughter Petra. As Tár forms and maintains transactional relationships, the love she shows as a parent is often the most heartwarming point of the film, a soul within this haughty figure.
Field’s method of pacing and character perspective are some of the film’s most effective mechanisms for the plot. The first half is a slow-burn depiction of Tár’s process as a conductor for her upcoming concert with only faint hints of comeuppance. Tár is in her element, and her routine and the metronome of the movie remain steady. The second half, however, pulls the rug out under her and things begin to accelerate to a point of no return. The consumption of the events of the film is through Tár’s eyes, so this sudden rush of events is not only jarring for Tár but the viewer too.
The character study of Tár is immensely intriguing in the context of the themes Field’s world inhabits. The most obvious theme is separating art from the artist, which Tár believes to be the case in a fantastic single-take lecture scene, where she argues with a student on why Bach should be honored and played despite his immoral character. Tár’s absolute love for the craft and the narcissistic nature of how she presents her opinion intertwine in a brutal way that shows Tár out of her element. When the student cusses her out and walks out angrily, this unfortunate facet of her stubborn personality is extremely evident.
The reappearance of this scene at a later point of the film as an edited, misleading version of the lecture posted on Twitter represents a mirror to the real world’s misuse of social media against public figures. However, the scene finds in it an irony, as this misuse is unfairly hurting Tár’s image even though the unedited original lecture already paints her in a bad light. Gender is another issue tackled through Tár’s character study by the way she claims not to have had any hurdles being a woman in the music world, and upholds a hyper-masculine image throughout the movie. Like the real world of classical composing that has always been male-dominated, this is a form of overcompensation Tár brings with her everywhere she goes as more about her backstory is hinted at in the third act. Her lack of knowledge of International Women’s Day and alleged actions with multiple women in the movie shows her identity and interests never align with her gender but only with the music and fame she possesses and wants to keep so badly.
Tár’s perspective becomes more haunting as the film rolls on. Strange elements include a book missing, a metronome turned on in the middle of the night, screams heard in the distance, funky dream sequences and a labyrinth of a derelict building that Tár hurts herself escaping. These moments are surreal, spaced out and subtly unsettling, with the guilt desperately trying to pry out of her subconscious. Tár rarely truly faces herself throughout, and because it’s through her perspective, we only get one real moment charged with nuance near the end of the movie that pays off beautifully through Blanchett’s amazing display of complex vulnerability riddled with emotions of regret, sadness and remembrance.
The characters around Tár provide her with the attention and love she asks for, but these people have thoughts and plans of their own that are made apparent in the jarring third act where the house of cards begins to fall. Noémie Merlant as Francesca, Tár’s assistant, and Sharon, Tár’s partner, played by Nina Hoss, has a brilliantly understated performance that holds their own entanglements in their relationship with the protagonist.
Field created a captivating character study that doubled as an exploration of themes that show a cold world that is not without its humanity. The film is a complete vision filled with nuance as a biting and real look at a pompous and self-important composer but also a person who is peppered with hypocrisies rooted in deep fears of image and failure. The ending, while humorous, brings the film to a close in a stirring fashion by taking away Tár’s ability to keep tempo in her own life in a form of full-circle poetic justice.
“Tár” challenges the audience’s take on whether the art can overcome the artists’ flaws and how far can an artist go before being canceled. Tár is the person that embodies these difficult questions, for better or for worse. It is not up to the filmmakers to answer these questions, but the audience, however, and like the mysterious metronome that turns on by itself in the middle of the night in Tár’s home, once things are set in motion, no one can control the tempo anymore. The chips will fall where they may.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars