Tár review: Cate Blanchett is exceptional in Todd Field's examination of power
Tár review: Director Todd Field and star Cate Blanchett team up to deliver a masterful, uncompromising character study steeped in the abuse of power and privilege.
Tár opens with the shot of the titular orchestra conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) standing backstage, as if preparing to perfect her pose and wavelength before she faces the audience. The introduction to Lydia Tár occurs in the succeeding scene- which continues for the next 15 minutes as she sits to be interviewed onstage by Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker (playing himself). Lydia, we learn, is an EGOT winner, and has been the conductor of the Boston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, before she arrived at the Berlin Philharmonic where she has been conducting for the last seven years. The ferocity of her acclaim matches with the passion and exuberance with which she explains herself and her opinions in the interview. Yet, as Field gradually grabs the light beneath his protagonist's career stamps over the course of the next 158 minutes, Tár becomes a breathtakingly vivid study of power, artistic integrity and entitlement.
This prolonged interview scene is crucial to unpack the layers in which Field, in collaboration with actor Cate Blanchett, begins to examine the corruption of power in an aggressively social media-fuelled culture in a post #MeToo world. Field isn't interested in Tár's genius, he is far more surreptitious of the gaps that appear in-between the rhythms of her life. It is about what Tár is trying to be. One slowly inches closer to her real-life encounters, first in a brief gossip session with part time conductor Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong), and then finally, in her tastefully large apartment with her partner Sharon (a remarkable, scene-stealing Nina Hoss), who also serves as her lead violinist. Yet, in none of these interactions do we get a hint of who Lydia is; as she presides with a startling sense of poise and duplicity. The one person with whom Lydia really allows herself to shed her tough exterior is with her adopted daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic). When she learns that Perta is bullied at school, she introduces herself as "Petra's father," and confronts the girl with a chillingly foreboding tone. It tells her, and Field's audience everything her protagonist has been cultivating all this while beneath that transactional artifice.
The intrigue occurs when a young and beautiful cellist named Olga (newcomer Sophie Kauer) appears. Lydia is fixated on her, and conveniently orchestrates a fake audition process to secure her closer and closer to her in the orchestra. From here on, Field unravels Lydia's misuse of power with meticulous attention to detail, curtailing behind the cool and detached approach of his mise-en-scène to join the hidden dots together. In the director's hands, the almost stealthy, unconventional approach to dive deep into the world of classical music in Tár never feels alienating. Florian Hoffmeister shoots Tár in wide frames when Lydia is with an audience and in richer, more neutral textures when she is by herself. There's one fantastic scene when Lydia is all alone in her apartment, practising on her piano- and the scene directly cuts to her conducting- in full control of her craftsmanship. The editing work of Monica Willi is certainly the best of the year.
Tár treads equally double-edged, thematically vulnerable grounds in its third half when the world shuts down upon Lydia with uncompromising truths. The denouement is startling and might not sit well with some. Yet Tár never loses balance, and remains thrillingly alive. It all trickles down to the unmatched ability of Cate Blanchett to make such a glaringly complex character so real and authentic. Blanchett delivers the performance of her career as Lydia Tár, at once bewitching and utterly compelling in the way her character's genius never feels out of place. Is there anything the actor can't do on screen? Her work here is note-perfect, even a step higher than her Academy Award-winning act in Blue Jasmine. Tár might situate its audience in a world that has lost its idea of the sublime, but Blanchett makes sure you hold on to her note till the very end.