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By Alan Ng | November 1, 2022

NOW IN THEATERS! Tár is one of those movies I didn’t expect to like, but damn, Cate Blanchett can sure act. She is the reason to see Todd Field’s drama. Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár, the world-renowned Maestra of the Berlin Philharmonic. Thus far in her career, Tár is at the top of her game. She has been working on live recordings of the complete works of Gustav Mahler’s great symphonies. The only one left is Symphony number five.

Tár is your classic perfectionist, which is only exacerbated by the fact she is an artist. Throughout the film, she discusses her theories on music and her approach to Mahler’s Fifth. It should come as no surprise that Tár is a workaholic, which causes friction in her home life. She’s married to first chair Sharon (Nina Huss), and they have a daughter named Petra (Mila Bogojevic).

When not recording Mahler, Tár travels the world, working with Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong) on a conductor’s fellowship. At one point, she eviscerates a conducting class student wanting to cancel Bach because he’s a cis-white male and making organizational changes within her orchestra. It’s intense stuff.

I’m drawn to Tár for several reasons. First, I’m all about character studies (which I’ll admit is an acquired taste). This brilliant Maestra has some severe flaws that unfold over time, slowly turning this engaging hero into a villain. From the start, she is portrayed as hard-working and passionate. However, soon we see she has no self-awareness regarding her actions nor her perception of others, especially in her manipulative treatment of her personal assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant).

(L to R) Nina Hoss and Cate Blanchett. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

“…working on live recordings of the complete works of Gustav Mahler. The only one left is Symphony number five.”

The most terrifying aspect of the film is how she uses her power and influence to not only groom a gifted cellist, Olga (Sophie Kauer), but also cover up her relationship with jilted fellowship recipient Krista (Sylvia Flote). Tár may not be a Harvey Weinstein, but she’s probably more like Kevin Spacey’s alleged behavior. The story is an elaborate and haunted set of tumbling dominoes.

Tár is a very long movie, clocking in at over two and a half hours. There is a lot of discussion about the art of the orchestra and composers’ intentions regarding their craft. As a guy, who grew up on 80s techno, I did not expect to like these conversations as much as I did. However, Field’s script is both lofty and accessible, and Blanchett delivers it on point, which is not surprising for such a top-notch actor. Blanchett’s absolutely brilliant; her performance is a masterclass in acting.

How good is Blanchett? Most of these scenes and dialogue are all done in one take. For example, the moment when Tár buries a student over canceling Bach is a single take. To Field’s credit, the camera constantly moves around the lecture hall, capturing incredible angles for maximum dramatic effect.

Another star of Tár is its sound design and editing. You need to see this in a theater with great sound. When Tár is alone, she hears sounds interrupting her flow, sleep, and sanity. At one point, there was a car honking behind the audience, and I’d swear it was coming from the theater parking lot. No attention is ever drawn to the horn, but it puts us at unease, like Tár herself. Think Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart. Let’s say this. The ending is insane. The audience I was with and I were bewildered. It is a fitting finale for the beleaguered Tár.

Tár is not for everyone. It’s all acting and high falutin classical music. I’m here simply for the brilliant performance by Blanchett. Her character is imperfect, incredibly flawed, and a villain who doesn’t know it.

Tár (2022)

Directed and Written: Todd Field

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Nina Huss, Mark Strong, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

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"…Blanchett's absolutely brilliant..."

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