From the onset, simplicity and precision are on full display in Todd Field‘s Tár. Opening credits scene, singing solo performance in the background. From there, an orderly beat-by-beat question-and-answer prelude slowly sets the stage for what’s to come. The sehr langsam tempo is consistent for a while until Field, serving as both director and writer, eventually increases the pace to presto con fuoco, just before ending his work with a cadenza, a reprise in a different tonal key.
Tár is a masterpiece. The epic character study centers on the fictional Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the first female musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic. Tár has enjoyed an illustrious career, defying the odds and establishing herself as a prominent figure in the male-dominated world of Western Classical Music. However, the conductor’s carefully crafted world threatens to fall apart as dark secrets about her life are exposed.
Tár is Field’s first film since Little Children in 2006. It is not hard to imagine the director observing and taking notes during the past 16 years about the world around him. Tár features subtle commentary on how cancel culture, abuse of power, sexual harassment, manipulation, privacy, and misogyny are viewed and treated by culture in 2022. Each of these ideas are relevant to Tár’s present situation and makes the character an amalgam of several prominent real-life characters that have dominated headlines over the years.
Field allows for discussions on multiple points of view, sometimes through intelligent dialogue and other times through engrossing imagery. He does, however, make sure to avoid praise or condemnation on any view on the subject. Instead, he lets the consequences of each manifest through disturbing effects on its central character.
It is difficult to imagine anyone other than Blanchett breathing life into the complex nature of Lydia Tár. A master at her craft, Blanchett offers yet another monumental performance. Totally in control at every step, she pivots gradually or suddenly becomes unhinged as needed. Tár conducts her life and orchestra with exact precision until her past and present life figuratively (and literally) begin to haunt her. Insomnia, surreal imagery, and sounds that challenge her perception of reality threaten to destroy her ideal world. Field’s direction points towards demented territory, and Blanchett is all too eager to lead the way.
Nina Hoss, as Tár’s wife Sharon, is all too familiar with the truths behind her partner’s precisely designed facade. Noémie Merlant gives an affecting performance as Tár’s assistant Francesca. She gained her boss’s trust and respect, but not the affection she desires. Mark Strong makes an appearance as Eliot Kaplan, a second-rate conductor who eagerly lurks in the shadows waiting for Tár’s undoing. The cast is superb in Field’s hands.
One cannot overlook the music. Mahler, Bach, Elgar, and Wagner prominently feature, not only because of their music but because of what each of their histories represents within the context of the story. Oscar-winner Hilda Guðnadóttir oversees bringing the classical music fragments together while offering her own ominous score to chilling effect.
Tár is craftsmanship at its finest. Fields carefully considered element, with every decision meticulously thought over. Every person involved in this creation is at the top of their game, coming together like members of an orchestra. They offer an engrossing tale of self-destruction with a hint of redemption. With three feature films under his belt, Field’s third stands apart from the rest. Hopefully, his fourth will reach similar stratospheres and arrive well before another sixteen years have passed.