Directed and Written by: Todd Field
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noemie Merlant.
Director/Writer Todd Field’s first two films, In The Bedroom and Little Children, both heralded a new talent in American Cinema, but he then left feature filmmaking for 16 years. He returns finally with TÁR, a strange, dark and timely film worthy of a big return, being arguably his strongest work to date.
In Germany, famed composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) lives with her wife (Nina Hoss) and
daughter. Then once past actions start to sneak up on her and her pride and paranoia increase, her life goes into downfall.
TÁR gets off to a slow start, but as it goes on the film’s not always conventional but clearly downfalling and unravelling narrative structure envelopes you, with a mix of reveals and unanswered questions. This character’s world is depicted with detail that another director/writer might have simplified but doing so makes us understand her and feel the weight of the story so much. There is a lot to think about in hindsight but even whilst it’s going on, the script raises thorny subject matter with subtlety yet also bite.
Tár herself starts off as a talented and intriguing celebrity figure and carries herself professionally and politely, but then we see how much of a tyrant she can be in her professional world and how that seeps into her personal life, such as how though she loves her daughter unconditionally she still threatens her daughter’s bully in a questionable way. She is a repellent character, yet she is so interesting to watch and never once feels like an off-putting caricature. The film never forgets to show her predatory and narcissistic nature but also humanises her just enough yet not too much.
The message one can read into is that whilst even a cultural icon might be a human being first and foremost, they do to some degree deserve to be punished for their bad deeds. Not to mention the whole notion of absolute power corrupting, which when you combine it with the art world is also the danger of giving too much power to brilliant creatives. Finally, you can also read a simpler view of how you shouldn’t behave badly because your mistakes will catch up to you eventually.
The direction from Field is as precise as a composer, but as unstable as Tár herself, utilising a combination of long takes and quick editing that suit their sequences. There’s a strong sense of dread and fear, created via some creepy sequences spread throughout. There are some brief cutaways that when you make your way through the film do make a lot more sense ultimately, with really the only issue editing wise being that there are a couple of repetitive moments and the end does drag on a bit, but it does culminate in a totally fitting final scene.
Finally, it would be remiss to not mention Cate Blanchett’s work in the lead role. Beyond the impressiveness of her being able to carry herself so naturally in these long takes, she humanises this character whilst remaining true to their nature. Her physical acting in particular deserves a lot of attention especially in the final hour, not to mention her breakdown moments that are big but earnest.
TÁR is not for someone looking for a conventional narrative with a likeable lead, but to see such a challenging movie be made when another film could have covered similar subject matter in a blander way is a testament to Field’s talent that is thankfully no longer absent. Add in another artistic success for Blanchett and you have an experience you pondering for days after.