Director: Todd Field
Writer: Todd Field
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss
Synopsis: Set in the international world of Western classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and first-ever female music director of a major German orchestra.
Todd Field took a break from filmmaking. He left us with only two intriguing, beguiling features under his belt. Yet, in that time and with that distance, he has come back to film with a grandiose, masterfully built composition that will beg repeat viewings. Field builds Tár so densely and with such utterly exquisite command of his craft. There is beauty in every frame and in every inch of this film.
To single out one scene or sequence is to diminish the whole, but there is a scene early in the film that is nearly a film in itself and gives us the best idea of how the world sees Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett). Lydia is lecturing at a class. She’s pontificating, expounding, entertaining, shocking, and critiquing her audience. We’re seeing how she views the current culture and hearing her utter reverence for the classical music of the Western canon. It’s a lecture that becomes about separating art from artist and taking the music on its own. While Lydia lectures, Field and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister follow her around this space. The camera moves with her and for her as if it is something else she’s conducting. We are seeing her, through her perspective, as the erudite pinnacle of what is good taste and how things should be done. It’s captured so fluidly by Field and Hoffmeister as to show the polished, practiced nature of Lydia Tár.
However, it’s Cate Blanchett who shows us who Lydia is when she’s alone. Blanchett is a master of her craft and this is a staggering performance from her. There is no slip, no dropping of the mask; she is Lydia. She has a physicality, a presence, and a vulnerability that oozes from every pore. She slips from English to German effortlessly and from rigid confidence to hunched doubt from scene to scene.
Pair Blanchett’s performance with Field’s words and something even more interesting occurs. The film is ostensibly about a powerful figure who has a fall from grace when accusations about misconduct arise, but that’s not what the characters are talking about at all times and it is often simmering just under the surface. The idea that there may be something going on is between the lines. There are scenes with a facial movement, a flinch, or a smile that comes just too late. Field wrote no grandiose “courtroom” scenes. He wrote no tearful confessions or accusations. He built his drama into the tension of people knowing what is happening, but they don’t know how to counter the absolute power at play. Field writes from the perspective of the accused, but gives no grand statement about the morality at play or overly sympathizing with his subject. It’s the full range of a human coming to grips with the choices they’ve made and it’s brilliantly rendered.
That idea is also present within Lydia’s slowly growing paranoia. The paranoia takes many forms, but credit has to be given to the brilliance of the sound department, led by Roland Winke, mixer, and Matis Rei, editor. The team expertly layers in a soundscape that includes strange humming from the refrigerator, the beeping of a medical device next door, and the possibly phantom screams of a woman in the park. It heightens the tension as Lydia slips farther and farther away from where she wants to be.
Tár is absolutely a hyper focused character piece with that grand Cate Blanchett performance at its heart, but Nina Hoss is doing some truly magnificent work, as well. As the put upon wife of a genius,Hoss does so much with so little. Her performance can be encapsulated in the looks she gives. It’s obvious Sharon’s not naïve about Lydia and her proclivities, and with simple looks or gestures, even intakes of breath, Hoss gives us so much. She may be playing the second fiddle, but she shines in her own right.
Tár is dense, but that density is viscous and if an audience can sit in that density, the layers of the piece will let them in. Once you are in, Tár shows off its grandeur and majesty. It grabs you and holds you in place with every frame. It is an epic piece of cinema and one that should be experienced on the biggest screen possible.