From his first moments, tar It declares itself as an event. It’s not just another movie – it’s an immersive visual and audio experience. The credits are played entirely in the beginning, with weird music. It instantly conveys majesty and sophistication. Writer and director Todd Field took this cue from the work of the major bands, which fits with the film’s theme but also adds oomph. Even the accent in the title tells us there is a claim. And when we meet the character of the same name, we immediately understand the significance.
Lydia Tarr (Cate Blanchett) is a composer and principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. She operates not only with an unrivaled skill set, but at the highest level of cultural ranking – there are few others in the world, let alone her artistic community, of the same name. While interviewing him on stage before New YorkerAdam Gopnik revealed in the film’s opening scene that she received mentorship from Leonard Bernstein – along with many other people, real people helping to create the circles in which Lydia works. Intertwined with the tailors who fit the suit to her exacting specifications, it is clear that her world is one of sophistication, luxury, fame, and most importantly, the utmost reverence – for her as much as for the classical music she manages.
Lydia teaches at Juilliard and presides over rehearsals in Berlin. Her assistant (Noémie Merlant) and wife (Nina Hoss), the latter who is also the lead violinist in her orchestra, know her firsthand – perhaps even better than she knows herself. Although she is an undisputed genius, she is also a narcissist, either rejecting those who disagree with her, or scolding them in a display of lackluster intelligence. Unsurprisingly, deception and hidden truths seem to be part of their closest relationships.
tar A film about the artistic process and hierarchy of prestigious cultural institutions. As Lydia rehearsals for Mahler’s Fifth Symphony for an upcoming live recording – her tenth symphony, celebrating what you might imagine her ascension to Bernstein’s throne – she recruits, promotes and ignores musicians of equal power, and even merit. Her genius is even evident when she takes a disturbing noise from a neighbor’s apartment and creates a beautiful piece of music out of it. She is confident in herself and in leadership. At the same time, she exploits her power and position, disbanding anyone who crosses her and ignoring the consequences – on the goal of her insightful judgments, and ultimately on herself as well. She is a dictator, but her experience and wit are so seductive that she is able to persuade those around her to do her thing.
In a great role that might rarely come even for an actress of her stature, Blanchett rushes furiously at this extraordinary – and supposedly very difficult – opportunity. Of course, this “ultimate play” learned the procedure of playing instruments and speaking in multiple languages, but what you do here goes beyond study, memorization, or technique. She demonstrates just as much control over your instrument as the talented performers in your personal orchestra, with the instant and rhythmic flow of her performance that manifests both physically and emotionally. The woods of her voice are deeper, her gait stops and flows at the same time, and Field uses the extended time to highlight her sheer control that seems completely self-evident in the role. Lydia may be a cruel narcissist, but Blanchett is absolutely charming. We understand her attractiveness and are drawn to her, despite everything that’s going on.
Field’s text offers no easy answers to push the audience toward or away from their sympathy. Dense and full of mysterious clues, it’s a puzzle game for the audience to solve as they watch. Meanwhile, Hoss acts as a mirror, showing on her face all the things that happen off-screen, or that aren’t revealed. Each of her pieces silently conveys what exactly happened. In agreement with Blanchett, it is better that they give us the full history of their relationship in few guises and shared hugs than dialogue can ever give.
Field, who hasn’t directed a movie in 16 years, returns with as sharp focus as before, and with greater awareness about existential questions right now. The director who dissected boredom after 9/11 in young children (2006) is of course able to address cultural issues in post-pandemic times; Not just a movie about abolition culture or #MeToo, it goes further to examine how and why power corrupts these distinct cultural settings and hierarchies.
and yet, tar Don’t tell us what to think of Lydia. She’s the central character, though the movie isn’t told or anyone’s point of view discussed. She’s a fly on the wall, making no comment but observing the proceedings with merciless aloofness. And after an exhilarating 157 minutes, her fist feels more like a quagmire than a pretty unanswered question—a symphony that has been primed to understand, but refuses to offer a definitive explanation.