'TÁR' is a showcase for Cate Blanchett
Filmmaker Todd Field has stated that he wrote “TÁR” specifically for actress Cate Blanchett and if she had turned down the role he would have shelved the project. Fortunately Blanchett accepted the role.
I love movies about unsympathetic characters: “Ace in the Hole,” “Taxi Driver,” “Naked,” “King of Comedy,” “Uncut Gems,” “Nightcrawler.” Role models bore me. I want to see complex, flawed, three-dimensional characters. Give me a Rupert Pupkin or Daniel Plainview any day over a Maria Von Trapp or Forrest Gump.
That is why I love Todd Field’s “TÁR” in which Cate Blanchett plays an arrogant but breathtakingly talented conductor named Lydia Tár.
The film opens with Tár at the pinnacle of her career. It daringly opens with a lengthy on stage interview where Adam Gopnik (playing himself) reads a lengthy introduction dripping with praise before beginning his interview with Tár. Daring because it’s all dialogue — a dense, meaty discussion of Tár’s life and work. Although we are basically just watching an interview, Field conveys a lot of information. We see Tár’s need for control, how she pays attention to every detail from her clothes to her carefully rehearsed “spontaneous” answers. She is presenting a carefully curated image and Field lets us understand that.
It's fitting that the publicist sent an email specifying: “One important note: the title is TÁR — always all capital letters with an accent over the letter A — although when referring to the character Lydia Tár, it’s upper and lower case.” The film and the character are all about control so why not create a title that requires specific instructions, the kind Tár herself would make her assistant spell out to a member of the press.
The film moves us from this public image to an increasingly private one as we move through her office, a luncheon with a sycophant donor, a meeting with an old mentor and eventually a visit home. But at no point do we feel she ever lets her guard down or the façade slip.
All this is to place Tár at the highest point from which she can fall and the rest of the film is us watching her life unravel.
Field, has not made a film since 2006 and his two previous features were “In the Bedroom” and “Little Children.” Both films provide hints to Field’s proclivity for richly flawed characters and stories that defy simple categorization.
With “Tár, he delivers an elegant, intensely detailed character study of an artist entirely consumed by her passion for music and her determination to get what she wants no matter the cost. It examines what drives Tar and the answer is music, it seems to be the only thing that is truly important and sacred to her. Her spouse Sharon (Nina Hoss) tells her that all her relationships except the one with their daughter are “transactional.” And perhaps also disposable once they have served a function. Her need for her daughter may just be to satisfy her ego in creating someone who reflects her own ideas.
In an almost prescient way she scolds a student for not judging an artist by their work but rather by who they are. The film raises issues of #MeToo and cancel culture, while those may be hot button issues, they are really just part of the machination that triggers her fall, a fall that her hubris will not allow her to perceive.
Blanchett is riveting as Tár. It’s the kind of complex role that women only rarely get. She digs into with ferocious appetite, and refuses to soften any of the edges just to make it easier for the audience. You need to take her and Tár on their terms or back away. Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood in “House of Cards” is a kindred spirit in terms of emotional tone and control, and I admire both actresses for taking on the roles.
Field gives us a detached, unflinching portrait that never tells us how to feel or think about Tar, about allegations that arise, or whether we are to interpret the end as a punishment, a tragedy or perhaps proof that all she needs is music no matter what kind or who’s listening. Is she where she wants to be at the end? Absolutely not. But is she still fueled by music? I would say yes.
“TÁR” consumes us with a complex character and then abandons us in a darkened theater to contemplate what it all means. That is so refreshing at a time when too many films want to deliver a clear message. TÁR is as ruthless, brilliant, maddening, thrilling and stunning as its protagonist.