Tár Review: A Brilliant Cate Blanchett Tackles Cancel Culture and Powerful Women with Help from Director Todd Field – Below the Line
At two-thirds of the 160-minute runtime of At Cate Blanchett’s new festival vehicle Tarthe titular protagonist Lydia Tar is seen with her face bloodied, her eye swollen, and her nose broken. She’s beaten because of an excursion gone wrong, but that’s beside the point – those broken traits are emblematic of what it takes to reach the pinnacle of success in most industries, especially for women. , and what Tár herself had to do to get there. She’s not a boxer (in fact, she’s the conductor of the Berlin Orchestra) but she might as well be, for metaphysical blows come at her from all sides, and she herself can throw a bad guy. At the end of the epic run, you are mesmerized that an actress already seemingly at the top of her game could reach an even greater height. The film, essentially perfect but for the terribly twisty last 20 minutes, serves primarily as a vehicle for Blanchett to show what could reach a level of “unmatchable” action.
Tar serves Todd Fieldit is (In the bedroom, little children) first film in 16 years, and when it starts, Lydia is about to take the stage for an interview with the new yorker. The moderator’s intro establishes Lydia as an EGOT winner, an accomplished humanitarian, and the greatest conductor this side of Leonard Bernstein (who also gave him private lessons). Behind the scenes, as she prepares to continue, Lydia goes through a series of facial twitches, hand movements and gasping breaths – perhaps superstitious rituals, perhaps necessary habits – that make her ready. to prowl and pounce on its interlocutor when it begins.
Later, Lydia returns to her second home in Berlin, where she lives with her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) and the bosses around his cloudy-eyed assistant Francesca (Noemie Merlant), a sadder and more tragic version of Anne Hathawayit’s Andy in The devil wears Prada. Lydia must fend off unwelcome accusations from a pretentious investment banker (strong brand) and prepare for a majestic return to post-COVID in-person performances while dealing with an aging first conductor (played by Allan Corduner) and a new Russian cellist named Krista (Sylvia Flote).
Lydia spends her day taking no prisoners (e.g. threatening her daughter’s potential bully at school), while scheming, scheming and scolding – things that have taken her to the top and of which she is visibly proud. Through it all, Blanchett guides us, her deep performance both confident and compelling. From the very first opening sequence where the New Yorker interviews Lydia, Blanchett – who received the Silver Medallion at Telluride – created an all-new character from the ground up and fully inhabited it to the point where you could be convinced you’re looking at a real person and not an actress. She’s so compelling in the role, and Field is well aware of the talent he’s working with, making sure the camera stays on her as much as possible.
Hildur Guonadotirwho also composed the score for Telluride women who talk, also wrote the music for this film, showing his range and the varied nature of his talent. While his work in Sarah Pollyexemplified both tenderness and a sense of danger, here her cymbals are louder, her drums more persistent, and the piano ever present, as she weaves this sonic cacophony as Lydia directs from her podium, there where she finds herself, after all, conducting an orchestra as they play selections from some of the great classical musicians. Guonadotir fights off their older (but still grand) sounds as they interact with his distinctly modern tunes. His women who talk score will probably attract price attention, but this one is better.
Kudos go to two more talents below the line – Production Designer Marco Bittner Rosser and costume designer Bina Daigeler. Rosser has found an actual apartment in Berlin that is mostly steel and cement, with triple-height ceilings, stainless steel kitchens, and labyrinthine hallways that evoke Lydia’s consciousness, her power, her cold convictions, and her soul. You want her to come home to this apartment because, as redesigned by Rosser, it’s the coolest and most interesting living space in a 2022 release yet. Daigeler’s efforts are equally impressive and easy to overlook, as she dresses Lydia de Blanchett in modern and contemporary European looks while maintaining the style of a powerful, successful woman who is both selfless and painfully aware that she is judged by what she wears.
In addition to being an interim clinic, Tar makes some remarks about power, ambition and success, while touching on cancel culture and how pride comes before the downfall. If it weren’t for the rambling 20-minute home stretch that mirrors Lydia’s downward spiral and spoils the film’s ending, it would be one of the most original, effective and daring movies in a long time. .
In an early scene, Lydia confronts a BIPOC student who identifies as gender fluid during a teaching stint at Julliard. The student brushes off Lydia’s questions about great composers he’s interested in, noting that he’s not interested in the work of cisgender white men such as Beethoven and mozart. Lydia pushes back, in turn, stating her theory that there is little connection between talent and identity. Eventually, the student calls her a “bitch” and she retorts by saying that he’s a robot whose ideas come from a sheep-like online app. Later still, in a conversation with a much older gentleman who preceded her as a composer, Lydia denounces the current culture of being judged guilty after being accused of any perceived wrongdoing, and during the New Yorker interview, she rejects the idea of being considered a “composer” or a “woman” regardless, as she prefers to think of herself as a “composer” simply.
These are, of course, the most difficult topics for Tar for sale to the modern public. Field’s original screenplay explores the old notion that for women to succeed, they have to be tougher, meaner, and tougher than men, and then be unfairly maligned for it. To this old notion, he marries the common modern phenomenon of “one strike and you’re gone,” where the combined cacophony of the internet and society’s self-proclaimed cultural guardians can get even the most successful among us – even those who are nominally on the same “side” – thrown on the behind. The result, according to Tar, is a toxic, nearly impossible combination that, ironically, serves to bring down not just heroes, but heroines. The film leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether they think Lydia ultimately deserves her fate or not, which is in itself subversive in a time when easier, cleaner answers are much preferred.
As the credits roll (they actually roll both as Tar opens and when it ends), you will have the uneasy conviction that you have just witnessed something both undeniably original and terribly uncomfortable. Steeped in one of those timeless performances by a timeless actress, a quiet yet thunderous score, and a series of uncomfortable, unanswered questions, Tar is one of those rare films that is both satisfying and frustrating. In short, it’s practically guaranteed to be divisive, and that’s a good thing, indeed.
Tár played at the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals and will be released in US theaters November 18 by Focus Features.