Todd Field’s Tár is a complex, demanding film. And yet, despite its difficult themes and its contemptuous, autocratic central character, it’s also engaging and exciting.
At first, I’m not quite sure. The film begins with the credit sequence. This feels pretty audacious in itself. They’re called ‘end credits’ for a reason, right? They’re for putting your coat on and fumbling your way down the stairs in the dark, not for actually watching. I mean, I don’t care who provided the catering truck, or who the post-production supervisor is. Here, I’m forced to watch, and to listen to the music (Elisa Vargas Fernandez’s Cura Mente).
Okay, so I’m unsettled, which I guess is the point, but from here we’re into an equally long opening scene, where we meet the eponymous Tár being interviewed. The discussion itself is deferred by an interminable introduction, listing not just the highlights, but every one of the great conductor’s achievements, and – when the questions do begin – they’re dry and academic, the answers a forensic examination of classical music from a maestro’s perspective. I find myself shifting in my seat, wondering how this is the film that’s just won Cate Blanchett a Golden Globe.
Suddenly, there’s a shift. We’re with Tár at Julliard, where she’s teaching a class. She’s angered by a young student’s dismissal of Bach as ‘irrelevant’, and we’re offered a glimpse of her scathing nature as she belittles his concerns. It’s a shocking moment – and it’s not the last. Because somebody is watching her…
Blanchett is utterly compelling. She towers; she glowers. Lydia Tár is both maestro and monster, impressive and imperious. She’s living her best life: conducting the prestigious Berliner Philharmoniker, launching her autobiography, Tár on Tár, flying first class around the world, and sharing a stunning apartment with her wife, Sharon (Nina Hoss), and their young daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic). But she’s also careless of other people’s feelings, and ruthless in her dealings, both personal and professional. She has dalliances with some of the impressionable young women she mentors, then ditches them when she grows bored. Nothing seems to touch her – until it all comes crashing down.
The whole thing is disquieting, elements of melodrama and thriller juxtaposed with the minutiae of how a professional orchestra works. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Both the story arc and the characters are unconventional, the precise, deliberate nature of the structure mirrored by Tár’s meticulous dissection of Mahler’s fifth symphony.
By the time the end-end credits roll, I’m a complete convert. This is a fascinating film, so densely packed I know I need to watch it again (something I rarely do). Quite simply, Tár is a masterpiece.