Film review: Tár

Todd Field began his career in film as an actor before making his directorial debut in 2001 with In the Bedroom. It’s been seventeen years since his last effort, which is a testament to the detail he applies to the craft. His latest feature is Tár, a psychological thriller of sorts starring Cate Blanchett in the eponymous role.

A supremely talented and celebrated orchestra conductor, Lydia Tár is on the cusp of recording a live performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and is set to release her anticipated autobiography. However, when the alleged mistreatment of a former student comes to light, affecting her relationships with wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) and assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant), events take a dark turn.

Opening the narrative with several lengthy dialogue-driven scenes, a sleek style is established which is very clinical and precise in its approach. Tár is admired and respected by Field’s lens, captured in chilly greys and blues in and around her brutalist Berlin apartment. She not only conducts classical music, but also the people around her, and does so with the same assuredness. In complete control of every conversation, she is a force to be reckoned with, but an early discussion on separating art from the artist plants a seed for what is to come.

As the plot develops and her crown begins to slip, we see a subtle adjustment in tone which is reflective of the power shifts in Lydia’s life. Losing grasp of the influence she once had on the friends and foes around her, a haunting atmosphere threatens her relevance, legacy, and her sanity.

At the centre of the drama in every moment, Cate Blanchett delivers a powerhouse leading turn. Cocksure and confident in the beginning before a slow and desperate unravelling, it becomes unimportant whether or not we like or dislike Lydia as an audience. No matter your opinion on her or her manipulative behaviour, she demands your attention with her commanding presence. Similar scenes play out in different acts of the film with contrasting outcomes, such as a Lydia’s school run or a jog through the city. In these sequences in particular, her descent is brilliantly exemplified.

Presenting a cancel culture story from a compelling perspective, Todd Field’s Tár is a jet black masterclass in character development and sees Cate Blanchett at the very peak of her powers.


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