Todd Field’s latest film “Tár” fascinated me a lot for how it is about. While this is basically another familiar tale about art, fame, and personality, the movie is deliberately dry and restrained as patiently doling out a number of interesting variations of conventional story elements during its 158-minute running time, and it ultimately works as a supremely compelling character study to be savored and admired for many reasons.
During the opening part featuring a public interview by Adam Gopnick, the movie succinctly establishes its heroine’s legendary status in her artistic field. As a world-famous female composer-conductor who is also the principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at present, Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) has been simply peerless for her very distinguished professional career. As mentioned by Gopnick himself, she has garnered many various industry awards including Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, and she is now approaching to another highlight in her long and illustrious career as preparing for the live recording of one of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies along with her orchestra.
After observing how Lydia effortlessly captivates her interviewer and others with her wit and charisma, the movie alternates between her work and private life. She has lived with her wife Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss) and their little adopted daughter, and Sharon has also worked as the concertmaster for her. While Sharon takes care of Lydia’s private life, Lydia’s young assistant Francesca Lentini (Noémie Merlant) handles many things in Lydia’s busy schedule, and we come to gather that Sharon and Francesca have done more than merely providing help and assistance to Lydia for years.
One unadorned but undeniably impressive long-take scene shows what an unflappably confident lecturer Lydia is, while also provoking some thoughts on whether art can really be separated from artist. When one of the students attending her lecture says he does not like the works of J.S. Bach much due to Bach’s rather misogynistic life, Lydia promptly makes a series of counterarguments for why art should be regarded for art itself, and that makes an interesting contradiction. She is surely a pioneering female artist who reaches to the top of a male-dominant field, but she does not seem to regard herself as a feminist as shown from her interview with Gopnik, though she recognizes and respects all those famous female artists before her.
In the meantime, things slowly begin to fall apart in Lydia’s seemingly perfect life and career. At first, she just seems to be annoyed by some young woman who was involved with her some time ago, but it gradually turns out that the situation is much more serious than it looked at first. No matter how much Lydia gets things under control as before, her life and work keep disrupted by more discords to come, and we are not so surprised when there eventually comes a sort of breaking point.
Even at that narrative point, the movie remains distant and detached as before, and Field’s screenplay wisely avoids any unnecessary melodrama or gratuitous sympathy as further examining its heroine’s contradictory sides. Because of being a woman, she is probably criticized much more than many other famous real-life male artists who got exposed at last mainly thanks to the #MeToo movement, but it goes without saying that she has indeed wielded her fame and influence just like them, and that is evident especially when she finds herself attracted to one certain young female member in her orchestra later in the story.
Although the movie stumbles more than once during its rather choppy last act, everything is still held together well by another stunning performance from Cate Blanchett, who deservedly received the Best Actress award at the Venice International Film Festival a few months ago and will surely add another Oscar nomination to her tremendous movie acting career. The movie has numerous small and big scenes where Blanchett is supposed to support and then carry to the end, and she does not disappoint us at all without making any excuse or compromise for her complex human character. We understandably become more distant to her character along the story, but Blanchett continues to hold our attention via her sheer charismatic presence, and that is why the last scene works as a bitter mix of irony and humor.
Around Blanchett, Field assembles several notable performers who hold each own place well around her. While Julian Glover, Mark Strong, and Allan Corduner represent the male-dominant aspects of Lydia’s professional field, Nina Hoss and Noémie Merlant are effective in their respective supporting roles, and Hoss is particularly terrific when her character reveals how much she has put up with Lydia for many years.
In conclusion, “Tár” is another interesting work from Field, who previously directed two films during last 21 years. Despite making a stunning debut with “In the Bedroom” (2001), he has been quite dormant after his second film “Little Children” (2006), and it is certainly nice to see that he is still a talented filmmaker to watch. Although it is challenging to some degree because of its slow narrative pacing and long running time, this is one of the best films of this year in addition to having one of Blanchett’s best performances, and I sincerely recommend you to check it out as soon as possible.
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