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Review: Tár (2022)

Tár (2022)

Directed by: Todd Field

Premise: Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a classical music composer at the top of her field and the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. A series of accusations unravel her career.

What Works: The past few years have produced several post-MeToo dramas including Promising Young Woman and The Assistant and Bombshell. These films have dramatized the way abusive men have been gotten away with exploitation and the stories usually unfold from the point of view of the victims with a clear moral distinction between the protagonists and the perpetrators. Tár brings something a bit different to this subgenre. The central character is a person who has abused her power; the full scope of her misdeeds is gradually revealed over the course of the picture but there is little ambiguity about whether or not the accusations are true. The filmmakers want us to wrestle with Lydia’s skill as a composer and conductor and reconcile that with how she has abused her position. It’s a complex movie and Tár dramatizes this issue with intelligence and nuance. Cate Blanchett is terrific as Lydia Tár. Her performance is complex with quiet but revealing moments; when opportunities to exploit her power arise and as she gets called on those abuses we can see the character’s internal calculations in the details of Blanchett’s performance. Although it is a relatively long movie, Tár is remarkably on point. Every scene counts and the story moves ahead briskly. The film also has impressive specificity to the music world. Todd Field, who both wrote and directed Tár, demonstrates great knowledge of classical music and this industry. The dialogue is full of specific details that makes these characters and their world convincing.

What Doesn’t: Early on, Lydia has a confrontation with a student of color who challenges Lydia on the dominance of white male composers in the classical music canon. She engages with this argument, making a convincing, if condescending, counterpoint. This event comes up later when cherrypicked video footage of the argument goes public. Not much is made of this scandal. It adds pressure to Lydia’s situation but it doesn’t bear any consequences. It’s also unclear what we are to make of Lydia’s defense of the canon. The argument she makes is a valid one, that an artist’s personal foibles are irrelevant to evaluating their work, but the film may undermine that argument by giving it to a person who is later revealed to be corrupt. Then again, that ambiguity is exactly what the filmmakers are trying to explore.  

Bottom Line: Tár is a distinct and important entry in the subgenre of post-MeToo dramas. It asks a lot of the audience and gets to many of the central issues of this social problem while also offering a complex character study.

Episode: #927 (November 13, 2022)