Every year there are films that get hyped up for any number of reasons. Maybe its the latest film in a franchise, or its a stacked cast with an acclaimed director, or maybe its a follow up from a breakout star. Then there’s films like Tár. On paper, there are a few reasons to look forward to this. Number one: Cate Blanchett. That goes without saying. Number two: the return of writer/director Todd Field. For those of you who don’t know about Field, I’m guilty of having never heard of him, he’s a three-time Academy-Award nominee (twice as a writer, once as a producer) who hasn’t released a film since 2006’s Little Children.
The trailers for this film did nothing for me. It looked very much like an existentialist artsy fartsy piece of *swirls cabernet, inserts nose, inhales deeply* cinema. As the film made the rounds at festivals it started picking up steam. Then reviews came piling in. Not only was Blanchett’s performance praised but the film itself is being paraded as one of the year’s best. After limited screenings the film had an IMDb rating of 8.2 on the day it’s national release. Admittedly I still had little desire to see the film but rather I felt obligated to go see it. With the wife out of town for the night I made the pilgrimage over to theater less than five minutes from our house and got a ticket with the intention of seeing what all the fuss was about.
Oh my God was I right.
Tár is not a bad film. The camera work is incredible at points, featuring lots of soft lighting and extended unbroken shots. Costumes and production design are all on point. Cate Blanchett delivers one of her best performances, probably her best since Blue Jasmine, and the supporting cast delivers as well, particularly Nina Hoss as Lydia Tár’s (Blanchett) lead violinist and life partner. But with a run time of over two and a half hours and a story that doesn’t get moving until almost 90 minutes in, this is a loooooooooong movie that often had me counting the seconds as to when it would be over. A fair comparison for this film would be something like last year’s Temple of the Dog. The acting is great and it’s a well crafted film that critics adore and will probably be a serious contender at the Academy Awards but I just find myself wondering outside of the performances, what is so great about this? I feel like an uncultured swine.
Lydia Tár is one of the world’s most renowned conductors/composers of classical music. She’s at the height of her fame, she’s about to release a book and her orchestra in Berlin is about to perform a highly anticipated symphony. As she strives to reach perfection her life begins to unravel as the death of one of her former players continues to follow her and a video of her belittling a student emerges, a scene that we’ll likely see clipped into the Oscars broadcast for Blanchett.
The bulk of the film is spent building up Lydia and the life she’s made for herself. But as we’ve seen so many times before, at what cost? Her work alienates her from those closest to her, often pushing them away. She shows very little gratitude to those in the orchestra and her staff. The problem with this is when the film finally gets moving and cancel culture comes for her, we have no sympathy for Lydia. So when her life and career come tumbling down, while it certainly isn’t satisfying to watch, it all feels warranted and deserved.
The film cannot survive without Blanchett’s performance. The pretentiousness and complete lack of self awareness shown by Lydia will have you rolling your eyes from beginning to end. Lydia is clearly someone who thrives in the fart sniffery that is the world of classical music and Blanchett absolutely nails her character’s smug and condescending tones. She’s at her best though when Lydia is at the podium conducting her orchestra, often losing herself in music to the point where it looks like she just wants to lay her head on the pillow and light up a dart without even asking if it was good for us.
Overall, the film feels like watching an entire issue of The New Yorker. Todd Field leaves a lot of fat on this one as conflicts are few and far between and he does a poor job of illustrating what the stakes are throughout the film. It’s Black Swan without the black. Again, Blanchett is amazing and she deserves all the praise she’ll receive, but it’s just not enough to overcome how truly boring this movie really is.
Tár is now playing in theaters everywhere.
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