Tár

Review by Cat Earley

In the initial run-up to Todd Field’s widely-anticipated new film, a coworker of mine casually asks me: 

“Have you seen they’re making a movie about Lydia Tár?” 

In the flutter of press surrounding Tár (2022, Todd Field) I don’t believe that this coworker was particularly out of step with the general chatter dominating the film in the months leading up to its release. Mislabelling it as yet another true-to-life biopic, which is unsurprising given the vast ocean of them which flooded and continue to overrun our cinemas in the past few years. In truth though, following my first viewing of the film, this mischaracterisation of Tár as a biopic seems to run deeper than simple confusion – Tár truly does feel like a biopic for a woman who never existed. 

In the opening scenes of her film, Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) feels less of a person than a force of nature – an artist, a historian, a charismatic public speaker. Here is a woman at the height of her career, an indelible conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, a published author, and a settled family-woman to her partner Sharon (Nina Hoss) and her daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic). The opening scenes of the film almost laboriously chronicle the utter extent of her success: her lunches with powerful industry figures, her interviews on prime-time television, and a particular attention to detail regarding her over-familiar interactions with her female coworkers and fans. Tár is all-knowing, dominating, inspirational, powerful – until she isn’t. 

Following allegations of sexual misconduct and grooming from a former female employee, the latter half of the film documents the abrupt social collapse of Lydia Tár, in an all too familiar scenario to any viewer with even a remote sense of online literacy. I believe it would be an immense disservice to this film to unambiguously label it as being “about cancel culture.” What we receive instead from Field is an incredibly sensitive and refined rendition of one woman’s life that cannot in good faith truly be categorised as either wholly ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Blanchett provides  a brilliant, nuanced portrayal that  almost bafflingly manages not to isolate either side of the audience with its messaging. It is very much left up to the audience to determine whether such a fate is the hard-earned victory of a vindicated social justice movement, or yet another instance of a sadistic entertainment spectacle – an increasingly online crowd gathering to jeer and throw tomatoes at the woman in the stocks. 

It would be remiss not to note the incredible cinematography and sound design at play in this film as well, which is unsettling and unstable even at the heights of Lydia’s success. At all times, the musician feels watched – which of course, she is, by an audience of millions both literally and narratively. Far from a film pandering to either fear-mongering conservative news pundits or tacit Twitter activists, Field seems to be trying to paint with a more precise brush regarding the particular nuances of ethical artist consumption, and cumulatively, where that leaves the celebrity target of our ire. In short, Field’s Tár is infallible, shocking, nail-biting, horrific, revolting, spectacular, and eminently, fear-inducingly tangible.

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