Tár – 2022

Written and Directed by Todd Field
Starring Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong

The opening scene of Tár is as droning and interminably arrogant as anything one in flyover country might experience in a film this year. The vaunted first woman chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic is introduced with all of the pomp and circumstance most non-city folk would expect before The New Yorker Festival of the Arts. Loaded with all sorts of pride, Lydia Tár (Blanchett) drones on about all of her upcoming works. There is the book Tár on Tár which is due on bookshelves soon. Then there is all of the recordings she did for housebound sophisticates during the worldwide pandemic lockdown. Now she is preparing her orchestra for a new live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which in all candor, this viewer had never even heard of before sitting for this movie. All of this is in deference to her protoge Leonard Bernstein, someone of whom most of us have heard.

Lydia leans heavily on her assistant Francesca (Merlant) and very clearly has used her for more than keeping a schedule and carrying bags. She approaches her guest teaching at Julliard School of Music with the confidence of one who can see past the BIPOC-concieved sins of past renowned conductors like Bach and Beethoven to the essence of what it means to create music. In the process we see her dress down a pangender student while trying to open the class up to the value of art. She fails to realize that she has irritated more than just one social justice warrior.

We are not surprised to learn that Tár is married to her concertmaster Sharon (Hoss), or that she cheats routinely on her wife. Even the threat that she gives to one of her adopted child’s tormentors at school, referring to herself as the father, comes only with a slight surprise. Lydia Tár owns the world.

Or not.

The downfall of this character is inevitable from the first arrogant moment that we lay eyes on her. The key is in the artistic way Field lays the traps with which our horrid protagonist will step into, like Sideshow Bob on a rake. Having an actress the caliber of Blanchett goes a long way to giving the decline a real human feel. We understand why this woman feels like she deserves to be where she is at the same time we see her attempt to kite her overstated value from person to person, place to place. She is as fraudulent as she is musically brilliant. In baseball terms, she’s Ty Cobb, or more recently, Pete Rose.

In creating this incredible dichotmy of character, Blanchett is truly at the top of her game. She gives Tár multiple layers. Many of them are mean, some absolutely insidious. She’s also a student of mentors who bring out a genius musical passion in her soul. Field throws apparent victims in her path, all meant in deference to her magnificent talent and skill. These all turn out to be mines in her field of the oppressed.

The result is a triumph of humanity over the arrogance of power. No matter what the field in life, whether its art, business, politics or religion, being a master at something can lead to suffering of the soul. When you lose that, you’ve lost everything. It’s such a perfect picture of failing at humanity while one succeeds in their field, it’s almost impossible to watch twice. It’s worth it, though, if one wants to respect how art can clarify what it is to be a decent human.

(***** out of *****)

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